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Jobless Checks for 15,000 AZ Families Hang On a Single Word

June 8, 2011

PHOENIX - Time is running out for some 15,000 Arizona households who will stop getting unemployment checks next week unless the Legislature changes a single word in state law.

The change would allow those still looking for work after 79 weeks to receive an additional 20 weeks of benefits already authorized by Congress - at no cost to the state.

Karen McLaughlin, budget and research director at the Children's Action Alliance, says all that's needed is a technical adjustment.

"The Legislature needs to go in and change one word, from 'two' to 'three,' to allow a longer look-back in the formula that determines whether the extended-benefits program is triggered on or triggered off."

Gov. Jan Brewer supports making the change, but state lawmakers aren't so sure. House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Dewey, says he's open to holding a special session, but wants to see the state's May jobless numbers first. Those won't be available until after the weekly checks have stopped.

Arizona's unemployment rate fell from 9.5 percent to 9.3 percent in April. Despite the improvement, McLaughlin says, prospects remain dim for Arizona's long-term jobless.

"Back in April, when McDonald's did their one-day hiring program throughout the nation, they hired 1,300 Arizonans, but there were 14,000 people who applied for those jobs."

Extended unemployment benefits don't just help job seekers, McLaughlin says. The $3.2 million a week goes directly into the state's economy.

"They don't save it. They don't spend it on vacations. They pay their rent. They pay gas to put in their cars to go look for jobs. They buy clothes for their children. So, the money is spent almost immediately."

She says the economic boost from the extended benefits is especially important in rural communities where unemployment tends to be higher.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ