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Davis talks about stimulus bill

Rep. Artur Davis said people need look no further than laid off Weyerhaueser workers to see how the economic stimulus package helps Alabama.

Davis addressed Wilcox County officials Monday and said the $787 million bill would extend unemployment benefits and could potentially erase the deficit in Alabama’s General Fund. President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign the bill into law today.

The stimulus package will extend benefits provided by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), which insures the unemployed. Displaced workers will receive a 65 percent federal subsidy instead of paying for all their coverage out of pocket, and they will receive benefits for nine months.

“Obviously that still leaves all of them needing to come up with their share,” Davis said. “Some of them won’t be able to, but some of them will find jobs that don’t provide health insurance that will enable them to meet their share.”

Davis met earlier in the day privately with more than 100 of the 330 workers laid off by the Weyerhaueser plant that shut down in Pine Hill last week.

The layoffs took place in a county that already had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 15.1 percent. Statewide the unemployment rate is almost 7 percent.

Earlier this year Sam Addy, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, predicted the state’s unemployment would peak at 8 to 8.4 percent in the last half of 2009.

About 52,000 new jobs are expected in Alabama in next two years with the passage of the stimulus package. Davis believes state officials should make a special effort to aid Wilcox and similar counties to attract some of those.

“I happen to believe that the State of Alabama needs to make a specialized effort to incentivize industries to come to low-income places like Wilcox County,” Davis said. “Wilcox County does not have the same resources to recruit industry as some of our friends in the suburban counties. Sometimes to be fair you have to give someone an extra hand.”