/ Modified jun 10, 2011 8:34 p.m.

More Unemployment, More Problems?

Public policy specialists disagree on benefits of another 20 weeks for long-term unemployed

Unemployment benefits for an estimated 15,000 Arizonans will expire on Saturday, with legislators, the governor and public policy experts in an ongoing debate about whether they should be extended.

State law must be changed to allow Arizona to provide another 20 weeks of payments to people out of work more than 79 weeks. The payments average $212 a week and the federal government will bear the cost for the extension.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called the Legislature into special session Friday, but with little agreement among her fellow Republicans and with two dozen of the 90 legislators absent, any action was put off until at least Monday.

She issued a statement afterward sharply criticizing legislators and telling them to return to the Capitol on Monday and "get to work."

"I didn’t act lightly this week when I called the Legislature into an emergency Special Session," Brewer said in the statement. "The minor statutory change that I’ve proposed would extend federally-funded unemployment aid for as many as 45,000 Arizona families in need, while keeping nearly $3.5 million a week flowing into the local economy."

Grand Canyon Institute Chairman George Cunningham, in an interview for Friday's Arizona Week, made the same point.

"Over a period of 20 weeks, we will have $87 million coming into the state of Arizona for the benefit of these people that are eligible for the extended benefits," Cunningham said. "When you do the multiplier effect of that, it's in the neighborhood of $167 million worth of economic activity within our state."

But Stephen Slivinski, an economist with the Goldwater Institute, said extending unemployment benefits might actually keep people out of work longer, because of what he called the "intensity of the job search."

"There are a number of economic studies that suggest when you extend unemployment benefits, you actually extend the amount of time in which unemployed individuals don't actually have to search for a job," Slivinski said. " ... Those not eligible for unemployment insurance payments tend to have an intensity of their job search that's rather consistent over the course of a recession, whereas those who are receiving benefits don't tend to kick up the intensity of their job search until just before their benefits are about to run out."

Cunningham said research he knew of showed that over the course of six weeks, someone receiving benefits took just one day longer than someone not receiving them to seek and find work.

He also said that, contrary to what some opponents of extended benefits have argued, the unemployed are not lazy but in need of the help, as is the economy.

"This is not about lazy people," Cunningham said. "This is not about people with entitlement. This is about economics. This is about bringing money into this state."

Slivinski said that even if extended payments were justified, Arizona has a poor record of policing those who are on unemployment benefits. He said before extending benefits, the state should audit the system to make sure payments are appropriate and going to people who are eligible. The state hasn't audited its unemployment insurance program in six years, he said.

Reporter Michael Chihak further explores the issue of extending unemployment benefits in the June 10 issue of Arizona Week. Watch it now:

Unemployment benefits for an estimated 15,000 Arizonans will expire on Saturday, with legislators, the governor and public policy experts in an ongoing dialogue about whether they should be extended.


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