Seeking Benefits in Attack's Aftermath

Eric Carr is happy to be alive. Carr was a former bartender on the night shift at Windows on the World, the famous restaurant that was on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower.

But now he's faced with another problem — looking for work.

"It's like I'm starting my life all over again, looking in the workforce and everything else," says Carr.

In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Carr is not alone. Hundreds of thousands of workers are finding themselves without jobs and seeking assistance and benefits from the government to help them through this difficult time.

The New York state Department of Labor has received some 10,800 claims for unemployment insurance related to the attacks on the World Trade Center so far, and expects to have up to 100,000 claims in the next few months, says department spokeswoman Betsy McCormack.

That number includes up to 35,000 claims for disaster unemployment assistance, known as DUA. This type of assistance provides financial relief for people whose employment was lost or interrupted because of a major disaster and who are not eligible for normal unemployment insurance.

Thousands Unemployed

In addition, the U.S. Labor Department says New York state could see 75,000 people who may need to seek dislocated worker assistance, which is employment assistance and aid for workers who have lost their jobs through layoffs or other involuntary causes and are not expected to be called back by their employers.

Besides those physically displaced by the attacks, other industries, such as airlines, hotels and travel agencies, are hurting from the dramatic slowdown in travel. The airline industry so far expects to cut almost 100,000 jobs, while the American Society of Travel Agents fears that more than half of the nation's 300,000 travel agents could be without jobs if the industry doesn't get any assistance.

The final count could run anywhere from several hundred thousand to 1 million people unemployed as a result of the economic slowdown these attacks have precipitated, says Christine Owens, director of public policy for the AFL-CIO.

Falling Between the Cracks

There is other assistance available. New York state is providing re-employment services for some of the workers who lost their jobs in the World Trade Center attack. The state recently secured $25 million in emergency funding to provide support services and temporary jobs to workers who were impacted by the disaster. These positions will mostly involve cleanup, renovation and restoration work for properties destroyed by the attacks.

The New York Central Labor Council has also teamed up with the city's industries to find work for some of those put out of jobs. The council along with the New York City Partnership and Consortium for Worker Education has set up hotlines to match laid off workers with jobs.

National assistance programs include national emergency grants and rapid reemployment services. Federal aid for states' unemployment coffers could be on the way, according to a report in today's New York Times. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said the government would help states in funding their unemployment programs and may consider increasing the maximum number weeks that unemployment insurance lasts, according to the Times. Unemployment benefits are currently available for 26 weeks.

But even though there are various government programs to help displaced workers, some groups worry that some could fall through the holes in the safety net.

"It's an enormous hit and it's really being felt across the board," says Owens. "The workers at the bottom are the ones who are really, really suffering. We really could have a crisis of enormous dimensions on our hands if we're not responsive to their needs."

Health Insurance a Challenge

One of the biggest problems is health insurance. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, or COBRA, the unemployed can extend their company's health benefits for up to 18 months after their job is terminated. But employees have to pay more for this coverage because their employer is no longer paying a portion of the premium.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a lot of these folks won't be able to continue coverage," says Owens. "We've got to address that problem of how we make it affordable for those people to have access to a plan."

New York state has waived some requirements over the next four months so that applicants can more quickly receive emergency health coverage through the state's Medicaid, Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus programs.

Still, healthcare remains a concern for many Americans. The Census Bureau found that more Americans had health insurance last year than ever before. But with more workers losing their jobs, many experts expect the numbers of uninsured to go back up. Compounding this problem is an increase in health care premiums, which rose by 11 percent last year over the year before.