Steelworkers’ benefit extension signed into law

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Granite City, IL ­– Laid-off steel workers will get a new round of unemployment benefits with the signing of a bill sponsored by Metro-East legislators to extend their benefits by up to 26 weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law on Monday, in time for Christmas. It was sponsored in the House by Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) and in the Senate by Bill Haine (D-Alton) and easily passed both chambers when the Legislature was in session.

The legislators said the real goal remains getting Granite City Steel and other local steel facilities back on line, but in the meantime, the benefits will come in handy for steelworkers and their families.

“This measure is so important in our community,” Haine said. “These individuals are facing a lot of uncertainty right now, and we need to do all we can to help them.

“We also need to get to the root of this issue and stop the flooding of cheap, low-grade Asian steel into the market. The steel industry was once a thriving industry in our area. We need to bring it back.”

About 2,000 workers were laid off starting in 2015 as U.S. Steel put the Granite City Works on an indefinite shutdown because of below-cost Chinese steel flooding the market. A week ago, the company announced it would bring back about 220 workers, but more than 1,000 remain laid off.

Illinois law provides unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks during a one-year period. The legislation that was signed into law extends unemployment benefits for steelworkers who were laid off between April 1, 2015, and the effective date of the bill, which is immediate.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE

Workers are eligible if they have been laid off from a steel manufacturer, have exhausted their unemployment benefits and are not receiving federal benefits. The Illinois Department of Employment security will administer the program to extend the benefits.

“It’s unfortunate the U.S. steel market has seen such a decline over the past years. Granite City Works is a major part of our local economy,” Hoffman said. “When these men and women are out of work, we all feel the burden. Although this measure will provide some much needed relief to these men and women, we need to get that plant running at full capacity again.”

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