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Congress extends unemployment benefit help

CHAMPAIGN '“ "I want a job,' Sara Goble's resume reads. 

"I am a hard worker and I am tired of being unemployed. I have welded and worked in a factory half of my life so it would not be quite new to me. I can pass (a) drug test . . .'

Goble, a single mother of two, had collected unemployment for more than 60 weeks as of March 26.  Across the state, the unemployment rate continues to top 11 percent.

The high jobless rate has nearly depleted the state's unemployment trust fund. The fund's balance dropped from $1.4 billion at the end of 2008 to nearly $9 million at the end of 2009 as more people claimed unemployment benefits.  As a result, Illinois is among 35 states forced to borrow money from the federal government to fund unemployment payments.

"The department draws on that fund every week to pay benefits,' said Greg Rivara, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Economic Security.

More than 660,000 state residents claimed unemployment benefits for the first time last year '“ up almost 50 percent over 2008, according to the Illinois Department of Economic Security.

While the state usually limits unemployment benefits to 26 weeks per year, the federal government has funded several extensions that collectively allow people to claim benefits for up to an additional 73 weeks.

Still, with more and more people applying for those benefits, the state has been forced to borrow $2.2 billion since last summer from the federal government to pay for the initial 26 weeks.

"The pace of job loss really picked up in the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009,' Rivara said.

Congress voted to extend federal unemployment benefit help on April 15. The new extension expires June 5.|

The last extension expired April 5, which means that those who have collected unemployment benefits for more than 26 weeks and have exhausted their available benefits under one of the federal government's extensions were no longer allowed to collect any more benefits this year.

Regardless of the help, about 20,000 residents statewide have exhausted their benefits and will not be able to collect any more unemployment, Rivara said.

"And there's more every week,' he said.

Until mid-March, the April 5 deadline was a worry to Goble, who was nearing the end of one of the federal extensions that affected her payments.

The checks have been a great help to Goble, who was laid off from her job at Eagle Wings Industries in Rantoul last January when the company cut nearly half of its workforce.

She began the job nine years earlier '“ making about $11 an hour spot-welding car parts. By the time she left, Goble made just over $15 an hour.

At more than $600, Goble's first paycheck from Eagle Wings was more than twice what she made at her previous job as a line assembler for Schumachers Electric in Hoopeston '“ a job she held for nearly two years.

"I did not want to cash (it),' Goble said.

The Eagle Wings job was a needed one for the 35-year-old Goble, who has lived in Hoopeston most of her life. With additional money from overtime and insurance benefits, Goble earned a comfortable living for her and her children.

Now, she collects about $1,400 a month in unemployment. She is splitting costs with a roommate to save on living expenses.  

"You still have the same bills you started with,' Goble said, before she lost her job.

Every week, Goble knocked on the doors of employment offices as well as manufacturers. She searched job Web sites and followed up each application with a phone call.

"It's not that I'm sitting here all day long,' Goble said.

Goble thought her luck had changed in February when she was offered a position with McClane Midwest Co., a distribution center for grocery stores, discount stores and convenience stores in Danville.

Despite the company's reassurances that her new position would be secure, Goble was laid off after two weeks of work.

And she was back to her job search once again.

"It's hard just because half of them are jobs you are going to make way less than on unemployment,' she said.

While her unemployment checks do pay the bills as long as she sticks to a budget, it does not pay for health insurance.

Goble pays $15 a month for the state health insurance program KidsCare for her younger son. Her oldest son, who is 19, receives benefits through a job he has. Goble cannot afford health insurance for herself.

"I still need my car. I still need my insurance,' Goble said, "I just pray every day me or my son don't get hurt or have to need [a doctor]. If I need to go to the hospital . . . it's all out of my own pocket.'

Still, while the available, low-paying jobs wouldn't provide enough income to pay for all her bills, Goble said the jobs would provide benefits, including health insurance.

"I need the insurance and unemployment [benefits] eventually run out,' she said.

Her pavement pounding paid off. Goble found a job at Auto Zone and began work at the auto-parts chain store's distribution center on April 2.

The job will include benefits after three months as well as a salary that is on pace with her starting pay at Eagle Wings.

After a year, however, Goble said she would be earning more than she did when she was laid off from Eagle Wings.

"I'm excited,' Goble said.

The job market's recovery will be a slow one, said Erik Kotewa, deputy director of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation.

"Businesses that are hiring are trying to fill positions with lower pay,' he said. "Everybody is working with tight budgets.

By Pam G. Dempsey/CU-Citizen Access

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.