WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama has a message for the unemployed: More help is on the way.
The president was outlining steps Friday to help the jobless pursue education and training, and keep their unemployment benefits, too.
Currently, people who are out of work and want to go back to school have to give up their monthly unemployment check. And if they decide to return to school, they often don't qualify for federal grants because eligibility is based upon the previous year's income.
The president was announcing the new measures hours after the government reported that the economy shed 539,000 more jobs in April, driving the unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, the highest level since late 1983. Still, it was the fewest jobs lost in six months.
Under the measures Obama was scheduled to outline, according to the White House:
--The Labor Department will encourage states to update rules during economic downturns so that the unemployed can enroll in community colleges and other education or training programs without giving up their benefits. States generally require people who collect unemployment to be actively looking for work, which can make it difficult to sign up for school or job training. Going to school will satisfy the requirement that they be actively seeking new employment.
--The Education Department will encourage colleges to increase financial aid packages for the unemployed. Colleges can consider an unemployed worker's situation and make them eligible for Pell Grants, which help low-income students afford college, and other aid. An unemployed person could get a Pell Grant and use it to pay for education or job training without giving up unemployment benefits. Beginning in July, the maximum Pell Grant will be boosted by $500, to $5,350.
"Our unemployment insurance system should no longer be a safety net, but a steppingstone to a new future," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday. "It should offer folks educational opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have" and give them skills they need to "get ahead when the economy comes back."
Obama has directed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to implement the changes. Both departments also have launched a new Web site, http://www.opportunity.gov, to help get the word out to the public.
States also will send letters to every unemployment recipient describing available training opportunities and financial support.
The $787 billion economic recovery package Obama signed into law in February gave states billions of dollars to provide extended benefits to the unemployed.