Labor Sec.: $4.1 billion in unemployment funds still unclaimed

WASHINGTON (WCSC) - North and South Carolina appear on a list of 18 states that have not applied for a share in more than $4.1 billion in unemployment insurance modernization funding that would allow the states to expand access to those benefits, the U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a release Friday.

Solis called on the states that have not yet applied for funding to do so "to assist the millions of individuals who are out of work through no fault of their own and who are in great need of assistance."

The funds, provided by the Assistance for Unemployed Workers and Struggling Families Act, can be used to pay unemployment insurance. The Act provides for a special distribution of $7 billion in unemployment modernization incentive payments to states. To receive the funds, a state has to make an application to the Department of Labor that detail revisions in state laws that open up benefit eligibility to a wider constituency.

According to the release from the labor department, some states have an eligibility rate for jobless workers that is less than 30 percent. The prescribed provisions allow for an expanded group of workers to be eligible for benefits -- including recent entrants into the workforce, low-wage workers, part-time workers and people that are unemployed due to family circumstances.

According to the labor department release, the payments are not loans and may lessen the need of some states to borrow money from the federal government. The funds can be used by states to pay unemployment insurance benefits and may be used for other defined purposes if appropriated by state legislatures.

Along with the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Utah, California, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Maryland have not applied for the funds.

Based on statistics released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates within the group range from a national low of 4.4 percent in North Dakota to the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation in South Carolina.

South Carolina's unemployment hit a record high 12.6 percent in December.

The fund were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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