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They paid their taxes, too

I really don’t understand the objection to using stimulus funds to expand unemployment insurance to help the larger number of people who are now out of work, and especially those who have the extra misfortune of not being eligible because they’ve been laid off more than once recently. What is the economic rationale – never mind the compassionate one – for letting folks like this struggle and accumulate debt?

For people like Henry Kight, 59, of Austin, Tex., the possibility that the money might be turned down is a deeply personal issue.

Mr. Kight, who worked for more than three decades as an engineering technician, discovered in September that because of complex state rules, he was not eligible for unemployment insurance after losing a job at a major electronics manufacturer he had landed at the beginning of the year.

Unable to draw jobless benefits, he and his wife have taken on thousands of dollars in credit-card debt to help make ends meet.

It is precisely these kind of regulations, involving such matters as the length of a person’s work history or reason for leaving a job, that the federal government is trying to get the states to change. Such a move could extend benefits to an estimated half-million more people, according to the National Employment Law Project, a liberal group in New York that supports the changes.

Mr. Kight and other unemployed workers said they were incensed to learn they were living in one of a handful of states — many of them among the poorest in the nation — that might not provide the expanded benefits.

“It just seems unreasonable,” Mr. Kight said, “that when people probably need the help the most, that because of partisan activity, or partisan feelings, against the current new administration, that Perry is willing to sacrifice the lives of so many Texans that have been out of work in the last year.”

He was referring to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has said he may decline the extra money rather than change state policy.

“I remain opposed to using these funds to expand existing government programs, burdening the state with ongoing expenditures long after the funding has dried up,” Mr. Perry wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama last week.

The governors contend that once the federal money ran out, they would have to continue providing the new benefits, which they say would force them to raise taxes on businesses. The federal money will end in two or three years in some states, or much later in others, depending on the size of the state allocation.

Proponents say that nothing would prevent states from changing the laws back at that time.

That’s the part of the objection I really don’t understand. This is a temporary situation; at least, we sure as heck hope it is. There’s no reason we can’t put some kind of sunset provision in whatever legislation we pass to address it. It’s not like there’s some big, powerful unemployed persons lobby out there that will be fighting to keep this expansion in place if things have improved in two years’ time. In the meantime, isn’t it in our best interests to ensure that the people who are living through this now don’t fall too far behind? It’s not like there won’t be any societal costs otherwise.

In Mr. Kight’s case, he was unemployed for the second half of 2007, after losing an earlier job he had at a different electronics manufacturer in a downsizing. As a result, when he applied for unemployment benefits, he did not have enough immediate work history to qualify.

“I have worked for so many years, a total of probably 30 years, contributing to the support system that helps people when they get in a tough spot like I’m in,” Mr. Kight said. “I haven’t needed it too much in the past, but I sure could use it right now.”

Tell it to Governor Perry. Patricia Kilday Hart has more.

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  1. Baby Snooks says:

    Most people are under the assumption that it is easy to get unemployment and that it is easy to stay on unemployment and most of them believe no one should have unemployment and should simply “get another job” which is really the attitude of most Republicans.

    In reality, many “fall through the cracks” and many don’t even qualify. There are many “contract workers” aka “independent contractors” who after ten years or more with one company are laid off and find they don’t qualify. And of course everyone who is “self-employed” finds out quickly when the bottom falls out that they don’t qualify for anything at all. Because they are not and have not been “employed.”

    We need the safety net of unemployment. We actually need it expanded to cover those who have earned an income who longer have an income regardless of how the income was earned.

    The Republicans of course want to do away with it because they believe it will lower their taxes. None of whom ever bother to look at how much the Republicans in Austin and Washington waste and will continue to waste simply because they are politicians and believe, as do Democrats, that taxes are the solution to deficits which are always the result of wasteful spending and beleve that the taxpayers are the proverbial bottomless pit. We are not. But as long as we keep electing the same politicians nothing will change. We need to throw them all out of office and start over.

  2. When Perry announced last March that we had a surplus of funds in our unemployment insurance and he was sending money back I got that sinking feeling that bad things were on the way.
    Surely he knew that the rest of the country was in a recession and it would eventually affect Texas.