Coping with Rising Unemployment in the US01 December 2009
The unemployment rate in the US rose to 10.2 percent last month which is the recorded highest rate since April 2003. The number of unemployed persons has risen and there are now 15.7 million unemployed based on the US Department of Labor’s BLS report.
The Filipino American immigrants are not spared from this unemployment crisis as more Filipinos are losing their jobs unexpectedly. There are no reported statistics of unemployed Filipino immigrants. Unfortunately, with job losses caused by the economic crisis, they find themselves dependent on unemployment insurance and other government assistance until they find a job.
Each state has its own law in providing for unemployment insurance. In the State of California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is the government agency that handles the claims for unemployment insurance benefits.
This unemployment insurance program is applicable to workers including lawful permanent residents who lose their job through no fault of their own. To be eligible, they have to be available for work which means that they should be ready and willing to immediately accept work and be actively looking for work. The minimum weekly unemployment check is $70 and the maximum fee is $450. Many Filipinos avail of this program but this unemployment benefit lasts only for one year. It is expected that after one year, the unemployed beneficiary of this program would return to the job market and be fully employed. This is not always the case and a significant number of unemployed are still not able to look for a job despite diligent efforts to search for jobs.
For those that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and are still unemployed, the US Congress recently passed legislation extending their benefits to another 14 weeks after the unemployment check is exhausted. This legislation was enacted this month of November.
Stimulus Funds Offered to Unemployed
The Obama administration also authorized $787 billion as a stimulus fund in February 2009 to support the creation of jobs in different industries among other purposes. For the city of San Francisco, it has utilized this federal fund to assist the unemployed residents of San Francisco.
There is a “Jobs Now!” program which has for its goal the placing of 1,000 participants in jobs between May 2009 and September 2010. This is only available to low income families, more specifically in place for parents who have at least one minor child and were previously employed with wages below poverty guidelines. It does not only place jobs to eligible unemployed individuals but also benefits local employers by providing referrals of qualified workers by subsidizing 100% of the their wages until September 30, 2010. This program is run by the San Francisco Human Services Agency.
There are also other cities in the US that have similar programs that utilize federal stimulus funds. We do not know that extent of the number of Filipinos who are eligible to participate as employers or employees of the program are now.
Availability of Information
Finding resources to assist a Filipino immigrant in the US may be a challenging task. In the past weeks, especially with the recent Pacquiao victory in Las Vegas, the more exciting news aside from his victory is his alleged illicit love affair with a young Filipina actress. This appeared to be more an interesting issue than finding resources for the unemployed immigrant. Residents who lost their jobs and find themselves as stay at home parent may easily get hook to the daily Filipino soap operas that are shown on cable Filipino channels. There is very limited available information on the issue of employment resources.
Watching the national news on mainstream TV channels or being updated by printed news dailies may be the only way to obtain much needed information on resources. When US Congress last week extended the 12 month unemployment insurance benefits, how many of the affected Filipinos are aware of this 14 week extension if there is no outreach to the specific immigrant population?
As a vulnerable unemployed population increases and with lack of culturally specific outreach to the Filipinos, increase in the number of scam victims also arises. There are many online offers for assistance in filling up unemployment benefits that are not authorized by the government agency who get commissions for assisting the unemployed. Many unemployed get ripped off by some unscrupulous scammers.
The Undocumented Immigrant
For undocumented immigrants or the TNTs (Tago ng Tago) who were previously employed for many years and are terminated from their work, they are not able to avail of the government benefits for the unemployed. While they may have paid taxes and have contributed through their wages to the unemployment insurance program they are prevented from benefiting from this program because of their lack of proper immigration documents. When this happens, the TNT is presented with the option of depending on support from relatives or they may consider returning to the Philippines. The latter option is not usually chosen for economic reasons. Interestingly, there is reverse foreign remittance to the US from the Philippines by their relatives or friends who are willing to assist. This may not be a common occurrence but we have seen this happen to an increasing number of unemployed Filipinos.
As Filipinos are known for their resiliency during times of crisis, the difficulties of this unemployment situation in the US remain a big challenge. No one really knows what to expect in the coming months. What persists is our formidable faith and hope that the economic situation will soon get better, relieving us of the individual crises we are all facing.
(Atty Lou Tancinco may be reached at email@example.com or at 887 7177)