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Tax-Cut Bill Includes Updates to Jobless Benefits System

New York Times (02/21/12) Annie Lowrey

The $140 billion bill that extends unemployment benefits and a temporary cut to payroll taxes also includes a number of provisions designed to modernize the U.S. unemployment insurance system. The bill, which was passed by the Congress on Feb. 17 and President Obama says he will sign, permits states to use unemployment insurance funds for programs that help move the unemployed back into the work force. Work force experts say the current unemployment insurance system does not do much to help people look for jobs, or to think about new industries or acquire new skills, if necessary.

The bill also broadens “work sharing” programs that can help curb layoffs at large companies. Companies would be able to reduce the hours of five employees by 20% each, say, rather than laying off one employee. The company could then use unemployment insurance funds to help supplement the workers’ wages to make up for the lost hours.