Brad Witt is asking fellow Oregon lawmakers to support a campaign to broaden unemployment benefits.

The House Business and Labor Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, on Monday held its first public hearing on HB 2624. The bill, whose chief sponsor is Witt, D-Clatskanie, which would create a new category of workers eligible for unemployment benefits and would offer worker training as a new benefit.

State Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland. has a companion bill moving through the State Senate.

"A lot of Oregonians are out of work," Witt said. "Many more can only find part-time or temporary work, and are unable to pay their bills. This bill will help workers now and allow them to obtain the skills they need to participate in the new economy - even after we rebound from this crisis."

HB 2624 would allow "economically distressed" workers - those who are unemployed, employed, but earning less than 110 percent of the minimum wage, or employed, but only on a temporary or part-time basis - to collect unemployment benefits.

"Economically distressed" workers would also be eligible for worker training to prepare them for employment.

Oregon's unemployment rate is 9.9 percent. In many rural counties, the number is well into double digits and job losses have averaged nearly 9,000 per month over the past six months. The hardest hit sectors include transportation, manufacturing and construction. Many forest products workers have experienced mill closures and need to find work.

"In these dire economic times, as the floodwaters of this crisis reach higher, we need to protect more of our fellow Oregonians who are facing challenges," said Witt.