As the economy continues to shed jobs, there's some good news for the recently unemployed. The stimulus bill offers incentives for states to update their unemployment insurance programs, extending benefits to many who weren't covered before.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act made $7 billion available for states who meet two of four possible qualifications: the state allows beneficiaries to seek only part-time work; the state eases qualifying requirements for workers who quit for family reasons such as taking care of sick family members; the state extends benefits to workers in training who've exhausted regular unemployment insurance; and the state adds dependents' allowances to weekly benefits.

Those who stand to benefit are recent entrants to the labor market, as well as low-wage, women, and part-time workers, according to the Labor Department.

The program encourages states to adopt several changes recommended by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a D.C.-based research organization focused on women's issues. Dr. Heidi Hartmann, the group's president, emphasized the importance to women of including part-time workers and those who left their jobs for family reasons.

"Now a lot of people will be able to come into the system," she said.

The program is also intended to distribute money to consumers more likely to spend it.

"The reforms are important in times of economic downturn, as these benefits not only assist individuals to weather economic storms, but they also provide an important economic stimulus," according to a statement provided by the Labor Department.

Dr. Hartmann agreed. "It's one of the best ways to get money out there, because, unlike with tax benefits, which people might save, those who've lost their jobs consider this money to live on," she said.

The Labor Department has already begun awarding funds, beginning with New Jersey, followed by South Dakota.

Speaking about New Jersey's program, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis praised the changes as necessary for meeting the needs of the twenty-first century labor force. "The modernization provisions in New Jersey's unemployment insurance program help unemployed workers who have entered the workforce recently, work part time or need training to get a new job receive benefits they deserve," she said.