WASHINGTON – Labor Department rules published Thursday say that workers cannot get post-Sept. 11 unemployment assistance if they did not make their livelihoods within the designated disaster areas of New York City and Arlington, Va.
The ruling means, among other things, that Maryland labor officials were right to deny benefits to Prince George’s County airport workers left jobless when those airports were ordered shut down after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Officials at the local airports declined to comment on the final Labor ruling, but local lawmakers said they were disheartened by the decision.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, “is disappointed that those who lost their jobs in Maryland as a result of Sept. 11 are not being given the same consideration as those who received the benefits,” said his spokeswoman, Katie Elbert.
The new rule corrects interim regulations that said workers who lost their jobs as a “direct result” of the attacks could apply for extended unemployment benefits even if their place of work was outside the disaster areas.
The notice in Thursday’s Federal Register said the rule was never meant to include physical inaccessibility to a workplace or loss of revenue “due to damage, destruction or the closure of entities located outside the major disaster areas.”
Labor Department officials said that their intent was to cover workers outside the “disaster sites” — Ground Zero in New York or the Pentagon — but not outside the disaster areas.
Cheryl Atkinson, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Workforce Security, said in a written statement that workers outside the disaster area may still be eligible for disaster unemployment assistance under the new regulations. But they would have to prove that they lost at least 50 percent of their business, that it was earned at a site in the disaster area and that the loss was a direct result of the attacks.
A Washington, D.C., cab driver who did most of his business at Reagan National Airport could qualify, for example, because the airport is in Arlington County and was ordered closed for an extended period by the government. Short of all those criteria, however, a claim for benefits would be denied.
The department said it recognized the “ripple effect” the Sept. 11 attacks had on the economy, but that the regulation was “never intended to cover all of the possible economic effects of a disaster.”
The new regulations are in response to comments by unions and other groups. Besides clarifying eligibility requirements for disaster unemployment assistance, the department also rejected suggestions that it: open benefits to affected illegal aliens; expand eligibility to workers in areas “close to” the disaster areas; and do away with a requirement that workers prove disaster- related hardship every week.
Although they were denied disaster unemployment assistance, Atkinson said the Maryland airport workers would have been eligible for other services if the state government had requested federal aid.
The workers could have received “training and re-employment assistance through National Emergency Grants when applied for by the state,” she said. But Atkinson said state officials at the time did not apply for such a grant following the Sept. 11 attacks.