Legislation to help laid-off New Jersey workers take advantage of extended federal unemployment benefits has been approved by State Senate and Assembly panels. The bill would implement the option provided under the recent federal law signed by President Barack Obama, which will extend federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits until Feb. 29, 2012, two months after they were set to expire.

Essentially, the measure makes the necessary adjustments to New Jersey's Extended Benefits Law in order to ensure that those who are unemployed will continue to receive fully-funded extended unemployment benefits for as long as the federal government continues to subsidize them.

State Senator Paul Sarlo is one of the bill's sponsors in the Upper House. He says, "Any time where you've been out work for so long and you recognize you're going to be able to get eight more weeks of unemployment benefits to help pay your bills it goes a long way. It gives you eight more weeks of hope."

The legislature unanimously passed similar legislation earlier this year after the federal government extended UI benefits until January 3, 2012. The legislation was signed by Governor Chris Christie in April. The new bill approved yesterday also includes a trigger that will automatically extend the benefits at the state level should the federal government extend them again at any future date. The continuation of UI benefits under this bill will pose no cost to New Jersey's UI fund or employers in the state, because the benefits are contingent upon 100 percent federal funding.

"With New Jersey's unemployment rate still hovering around 9 percent and 15,000 more individuals applying for benefits two weeks ago, this extension will help beleaguered New Jersey residents desperately trying to find work," says Assembly sponsor Joe Egan. "This an important step toward ensuring working class New Jerseyans get sustained help when they need it most."

Egan notes that the unemployment rate in New Jersey at the close of 2011 remained at 9.1 percent, according to the latest available statistics. There are currently over 412,700 unemployed workers in New Jersey.

"During the current recession, the average length of a person's stint on unemployment has reached over 40 weeks," explains Egan. "Because basic unemployment benefits last only 26 weeks, the average person that becomes unemployed will draw on at least some extended benefits, making this legislation all the more necessary."

Both full houses of the legislature are expected to vote on the legislation Monday.