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Unemployment benefits for immigrant workers gets support in Nebraska Legislature
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Unemployment benefits for immigrant workers gets support in Nebraska Legislature

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New jobless aid applications fell to a new pandemic low.According to the Labor Department, 473,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. It's the fourth weekly decline in the past five weeks.Economists say it's a sign fewer employers are slashing jobs. Meanwhile at least 12 Republican-led states say they will stop paying out the extra jobless benefits under federal COVID relief. 

Nebraska lawmakers granted first-round approval to a bill that ensures workers legally present in the U.S., who are paying into the state's unemployment insurance pool, receive unemployment insurance checks.

Right now, Nebraska is the only state that doesn't provide those unemployment benefits to such legally authorized workers, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said he remains opposed to the measure, which could mean a gubernatorial veto if LB298 gains final legislative approval, which isn't certain.

The unemployment insurance bill, introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, was supported by the State Chamber of Commerce, as well as chambers in Omaha and Lincoln. McDonnell said LB298 was about "fairness," in ensuring that workers — legally present in the U.S. — can access unemployment benefits that they contribute to through their paychecks.

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Lawmakers adopted an amendment, designed to resolve objections by the Nebraska Department of Labor, that will require the use of a federal immigration verification system, SAVE (or "Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements" program), to double check that immigrants in the country illegally do not receive state unemployment checks.

But that move has not satisfied the governor.

"LB298 would grant state benefits to illegal immigrants," said Ricketts' spokesman, Taylor Gage. "Nothing about the technical amendment that was adopted changes what is a fundamentally unfair bill that undermines the rule of law.”

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The Legislature plans to adjourn next week, about four days earlier than planned, and it is unclear if LB298 can pass through two more rounds of debate and get to the governor's desk before adjournment. The bill advanced from first-round debate Tuesday on a 26-9 vote. Thirty votes are needed to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

McDonnell said his bill would not provide unemployment benefits to workers in the country illegally, and that he believes he has the votes to get the bill passed. But, he added, if the bill is held over until next year, the issue may be resolved at the federal level.

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