ORCHARD PARK, NY - Dina Bardsley has been out of work and collecting unemployment for a year.
"I do what I'm supposed to do for it. I look for a job every day, and I'm always on the websites looking," said Bardsley, a married mother of three, while attending a job fair at Erie Community College South, where she hoped to find work in her former profession of real estate.
"I'm ready to get back in the game," Bardsley told WGRZ-TV.
Amid the debate over more "hot button" issues (such as the increase in the minimum wage) Bardsley was unaware --as were probably many others -- that the recently passed state budget contains an increase for unemployment benefits.
Starting in October of 2014 (and for the first time since 1999) the maximum weekly rate for unemployment will rise; from $405 to $420.
The additional $15 per week would amount to a yearly increase of $780.
"That would give me a couple of gallons of gas to get to job interviews...that's about all it really does," said Bardsley, who hopes to find employment long before the increase kicks in. "It'd be good to increase it a little, but it's not like I'm looking for a handout. I've been working since I was 15 years old."
Unemployment benefits are derived from the money employers are required to pay into state unemployment insurance programs. Usually, any move to increase the costs for business meets with stiff resistance from pro-business groups.
"There were a number of reasons we didn't object to this," said Brian Sampson, Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate.
The hike in unemployment benefits was tied to a companion bill, full of reforms to relax the costs to businesses for other expenses, such as workers compensation.
"This is a fair piece of legislation that is balanced. There are benefits to both the employers and the unemployed workers," Sampson said.
But for unemployment recipients, any relief over the news of an eventual 4% hike in unemployment benefits is tempered by the ongoing stalemate in the nation's capital.
In New York State, once an idled worker has received benefits for six months, funding to continue what is referred to as "extended benefits" actually comes from the federal government, with the state acting as a "pass through" agency to administer the payments.
Now, due to the ongoing sequestration, Washington is cutting on those extended benefits.
"They have directed all states to reduce extended benefits amounts by a certain percentage...here in New York State that's about 10.7%," said Leo Rosales, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Labor. "This is something that's being directed by the federal government, not by New York State, so we have to decrease the benefits for New Yorkers who are collecting extended benefits," Rosales said.
Also at Monday's job fair, was Joe Martell of Buffalo, who left a job three weeks ago, and is eager to return to a position in retail management.
He has a plan, and it does not include collecting unemployment compensation.
"I'm going to get a job. That's what I'm here for," Martell told Two On Your Side. "I don't want to sit back and collect a check from the government...I see myself getting a job, and depending on that, before I depend on the government to support me."
When New York raises the maximum weekly unemployment compensation to $420,(assuming no other states change their compensation rates) its rate would sit squarely in the middle of the pack among the 50 states.
NY's $420 weekly maximum would be well below neighboring states like Massachusetts and New Jersey (who each pay over $600 per week) and well above Mississippi, which pays the lowest amount at $235.
However, that would eventually change as well, as the state eventually plans to index increases to 50% of the state's average weekly wage which, according to Rosales, currently stands at $1,204.81
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 on Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2