"It's my money. I paid into the fund. And now I'm entitled to it."

That, alas, is the all-too-common feeling regarding unemployment benefits.

But the state Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund is not really a bank where people have their own accounts with their names on them, the money just sitting there in case they need it.

You - and your employers - pay into the fund to create a social program that you may or may not someday need yourself but that certainly someone will need. It's what civilized societies do.

But that means the state has an obligation to spend that money responsibly and ensure that claims for unemployment benefits are legitimate.

Which is why we have no problem with proposed rules that would impose a new requirement on the unemployed in New Jersey.

The proposal is open to some interpretation. Critics - including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono - say it will require the jobless to register on the state website Jobs4Jersey.com and search the site weekly for jobs. Buono and others say that's unfair to the estimated 20 percent of state residents who don't have home access to the Internet.

State officials insist the Labor Department will accommodate those who don't have Internet access. They say the goal of the new rules is to make it clear that in addition to "reporting" every week, the unemployed must "register" for work and "participate in other work-search related activities as directed" or lose benefits for any week they fail to do so.

Two points:

The proposal seems reasonable and would be reasonable even if it did require the jobless to search an Internet site. Free Internet access is widely available at libraries and the state's One Stop Career Centers. And considering that Internet skills are crucial for just about everyone in today's economy, requiring people to search an online jobs site can teach them skills they can put to use in other ways.

Second, there's no doubt the goal of these new rules is to pay less in benefits - or "restore the solvency of the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund," as the proposal puts it.

New Jersey's unemployment trust fund is broke - due to the lingering effects of the recession and the fact that when the economy was booming, governors of both parties shamelessly raided billions from the fund to pay for other programs. The state has been borrowing money from the federal government to pay jobless benefits since March 2009 and currently owes $1.8 billion to Washington.

As a result, employers are being forced to contribute more to help pay back that money. And the state's obligation is to ensure that everyone receiving benefits is actively looking for work.

That's because the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund really isn't your money - it's everyone's money.

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