Less than one million people use their right to receive unemployment benefits in Russia now, Labor and Social Development Minister Alexander Pochinok said at a news conference in Moscow today. According to him, the unemployment rate has been steadily declining in Russia over the past several years. "I am convinced that unemployment as a mass phenomenon will disappear in Russia in the near future altogether," the minister declared. He reported that about 7 billion rubles (about $233.9 million) in federal budget funds were spent on unemployment benefits this year. "We plan to spend 8 billion (rubles on unemployment benefits) (about $267.3 million) in 2002, but this is not due to an increase in the number of unemployed but is due to the fact that we have begun to pay (unemployment benefits) in the Chechen Republic," Pochinok pointed out.