Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- New numbers show Oklahoma's unemployment rate continues to improve. It was down to 6.6 percent in January, compared to 6.9 percent the month before.
But since the recession began, 30,000 Oklahomans have completely exhausted their state and federal unemployment benefits. That's like the entire city of Bartlesville being unemployed with no more options for government aid.
So why then is the state rejecting an estimated $100 million federal dollars that could be helping our unemployed right now?
When the federal government offered up more money to help states with the overwhelming demands of unemployment benefits, Oklahoma was one of nine states to say no thanks.
Emails from viewers started pouring in asking why.
Mike in Broken Arrow heard something about it and said, "I'm not sure what all it means, but it does make it sound like Oklahoma could be doing more for the unemployed workers."
Mike is partially right. It's a very complicated issue. But technically, Oklahoma could not be doing more for the unemployed, at least not in this situation.
Here's what it all boils down to: The federal government offered Oklahoma's unemployment office an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. That is equal to an estimated $100 million in benefits for those 30,000 people who've exhausted everything else.
But Oklahoma law prevents our state from accepting those types of federal dollars until our unemployment rate reaches a certain level.
The director of Oklahoma's unemployment program said Oklahoma has never even gotten close to reaching that level.
"You know I know it feels to us like, you know, our unemployment rate is really high. But compared to other states we are one of the better states in the nation," Jerry Pectol, with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, said.
Other states have changed their laws so they could accept this extra funding, but so far no state legislators have shown an interest changing Oklahoma's.