Extension of jobless aid would help 20,000 in Md.

The expected extension of jobless benefits by Congress would give about 20,000 out-of-work Marylanders an opportunity draw an extra 20 weeks of unemployment insurance, state and federal officials said yesterday.

The unemployed usually get a maximum 26 weeks of insurance after they lose their jobs, but a bill that has been approved by the House and is expected to be approved by the Senate would add seven months to an about-to-die program that gives 1.7 million eligible unemployed people a little longer to find a new job.


About a third of the 9 million unemployed Americans are drawing unemployment insurance, and about half of those would be eligible to collect the extra payments.

The $5.7 billion unemployment proposal would extend a program that gave people in high-unemployment states a chance to collect unemployment for a year and those in low-unemployment states, including Maryland, a chance to collect for 46 weeks, said Leo Bull, a program officer for the Labor Department.


Those who had already collected their state's maximum of 46 or 52 weekly unemployment checks would not be permitted to receive any additional payments unless they went back to work and requalified for the insurance, he said.

The proposed extension of benefits would mark the fourth time in two years that the government had lengthened beyond 26 weeks the amount of time for collecting unemployment benefits, Mr. Bull said.

In November 1991, President George Bush signed into law a bill that gave the unemployed 13 to 20 extra weeks of payments beyond their regular 26 weeks. In January 1992, the extension was lengthened to as much as 33 weeks.

On July 4, just as that extension was about to lapse and unemployment hit an eight-year high, Congress and Mr. Bush agreed to allow those who had used up their first 26 weeks of benefits to collect 20 extra weeks of benefits in low-unemployment states and 26 extra weeks in high-unemployment states.

That extension is about to lapse, and another one -- part of President Clinton's economic stimulus program -- is being considered.

If the bill does not become law, any unemployed American whose 26th weekly payment comes after March 6 will not be able to collect any more payments. If it does become law, people who collect their 26th payment before Oct. 6 will be able to collect payments for up to 26 more weeks, Mr. Bull said.

Marylanders will be able to collect for 20 additional weeks because the state is in the low-unemployment category. Maryland had an unemployment rate in December of 6.3 percent; the national rate was 7.1 percent.

Thomas Wendel, executive director of Maryland's unemployment insurance program, estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Marylanders will use up their regular unemployment insurance payments each month for the next several months.


Unemployed Marylanders collect an average of about $180 a week from the system, he said.