Guest columnists Mike Sells and Chris Reykdal argue that the state's unemployment insurance reform should include benefits for the children of unemployed workers. Extra money in the household budgets of the unemployed quickly returns to the economy as families buy necessities.

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WASHINGTON state’s unemployment insurance system can, and should, come to the aid of both employers and the unemployed during this unprecedented economic downturn. Now is exactly the right time to spur economic growth by helping struggling families with bolstered unemployment assistance.

We disagree with the Times’ editorial criticizing the majority of the members on the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee who voted to give unemployment beneficiaries $15 a week for each dependent child [“State in no shape to offer new benefit,’ Opinion, Jan. 30].

Besides leaving out the fact that the bill the Democratic contingent passed contains a $300 million tax reduction for employers, the editorial also failed to mention the details in the governor’s proposal.

To qualify for $98 million in federal funds, the state must either enhance training benefits or offer a dependent allowance. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s increased training component would benefit only 1,900 more unemployed workers. With more than 324,000 Washington workers receiving unemployment insurance, that’s hardly a drop in the bucket.

Compare that with proposals to give unemployed workers an increased allowance, which would benefit all of the state’s families whose wage-earners can’t find work in this economy. These families, struggling to buy food or clothes or school supplies, will take that money and head to the nearest grocery and clothing stores to buy the necessities. And they, in turn, keep that store afloat.

The money that pays for this benefit doesn’t come from the state’s operating budget, which pays for education, health care and law enforcement. It comes from a separate trust fund. And at nearly $2.5 billion, our unemployment insurance trust fund is the healthiest in the nation.

At a time when 30 other states have depleted their funds and are relying on the federal government to bail them out, Washington’s system is a testament to smart planning and responsible governing.

That’s why we can afford to draw down our fund with a tax benefit to businesses and a small bit of help for struggling families. We can support our businesses and our fellow citizens while other states propose huge new business-tax increases to replenish their trust funds.

It is well-established economic fact that the quickest and most effective way to funnel money back to businesses is to put it in the pockets of those who need it most — the families who have lost their employment. Our plan is a shot in the arm to our economy, more so than any other, including tax breaks.

Let’s face it, what businesses need now more than anything is business. They need consumers shopping in their stores and buying their services.

There are few places where we will have the ability to bolster our state’s social-safety net in this biennial budget. Currently, the proposals before us are still in flux as we weigh their merits. But what is absolutely certain is that we must find some balance between tax benefits for businesses and benefits for the unemployed.

Mike Sells, left, represents the 38th Legislative District and chairs the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee. Chris Reykdal represents the 22nd Legislative District and is vice chair of the committee.