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Unemployed prepare for end of benefit extension
Funding scheduled to end on Dect. 31
 
Published Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:41 am
by Sommer Brokaw

Home for the holidays takes on new meaning for the long-term unemployed who worry if they’ll even be able to keep their homes.

Federal support for extended unemployment benefits for more than 2 million Americans will expire on Dec. 31 if Congress does not act.
PHOTO/CALVIN FERGUSON
Jammie Barrett of Charlotte is one of nearly 70,000 North Carolinians who would lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year. 

Jammie Barrett, a single mom of three small children with health issues – two have asthma and another has a heart murmur – lives in Charlotte. She has 10 years experience in the administrative field, but after losing her job in December 2010, she is one of nearly 70,000 North Carolinians who would be immediately affected if the benefits expired.

The average benefit provided by the federal extension amounts to $296 per week.

Barrett said that she bases how much she can spend on her next unemployment check. 

“It’s painful,” she said.  “It’s hurtful because I’m not able to provide the big Christmas that I’m used to for my kids, and I’ve had to cut back on expenses for certain things that my kids would usually like to do just to make sure that we have money saved so that we can have a roof over our head, and we are able to keep our lights on.”

She said that she has always worked since graduating from Central Piedmont Community College with an associate’s degree in accounting, but since she lost her job working at a help desk at Carolinas Medical Center, she has had a hard time finding another job.

Barrett said that she has been applying for around 10-15 jobs a day, over a 100 a week at times, searching online sites from Career Builder to Monster Jobs to staffing agencies.

“It’s very tedious and stressful because I’m constantly doing interviews, but there’s so many candidates out there looking for jobs, and some might have more education or more experience than I do,” she said. “They’re going to go with the one that has more education or certification.”

She said that another challenge is employers are looking for not only experience, but also “specialized knowledge” of the industry.  “Like one was construction,” she said. “You have to have ‘specialized knowledge’ of being in the construction industry. That makes it hard to apply for a  job if you don’t have any experience in that industry.”

Barrett added that she is working on her bachelor’s degree at Pfieffer University.

She uses her unemployment benefits to feed her family, pay for their medical bills, keep a roof over their heads, keep the lights on, and pay for transportation so she is able to get to interviews. “Everybody’s not looking for a handout,” she said. “Everybody does not want not to work. I don’t like sitting around. I don’t like being idle. If you cut these benefits it will be to a point where I will not have the resources to even get to a job interview.”

Marcella Robinson, a Southeast Raleigh resident and single mother of four, said that she worked in the health care field for over 15 years before she lost her job because the company outsourced jobs to Juarez, Mexico, where they could pay employees $3 an hour.

Robinson has exhausted her benefits. “I’m just hanging on by a thread,” she said.

When she had unemployment benefits, Robinson was able to keep up with life’s necessities.

“I was still able to buy toilet paper, toothpaste, milk, bread, get the kids haircut, keep the lights on, the water, the gas, the main things. It didn’t cover everything, but at least I was able to buy some things and put money back into the economy.”

The federal extended unemployment benefits kick in after the 26 weeks of standard state benefits are exhausted. “In every state, workers can get up to 34 additional weeks of federal benefits, 60 weeks total, and then it just depends on the state’s unemployment rate,” said North Carolina State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan. 

The maximum in some states is up to 99 weeks. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which includes an extension of these unemployment insurance benefits,  is up for a vote the week of Dec. 12. The GOP plan extends unemployment insurance but gradually reduces the current maximum weeks of benefits from 99 to 59 weeks.

McMillan said that historically congress has never cut off federal unemployment benefits when the employment rate has been above 7 percent. “It’s still well above that, and some estimate that by next year the unemployment rate will be at least 8.5 percent,” she said.

According to NBC’s First Read, Speaker of the House John Boehner, dodged a question on how failure to extend the payroll tax cut, which is also set to expire at the end of this year, and the unemployment insurance benefits would impact the economy. “I’m not an economist, I don’t know what impact it’s going to have on the economy,” he said in a response to a question from NBC News at his weekly press conference. But Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said that if Congress failed to extend these benefits that would result in “about 1 million jobs lost by the end of 2012.”

“I would first tell our congressional officials to grow up,” Robinson said. “They have been elected into those positions to serve the people, and it’s so unjust how they’re bickering Democrat and Republican back and forth like elementary school children while the people are steady being oppressed on a daily basis . . . Looking at statistics as far as how many individuals are unemployed says it very boldly that extension is needed to those who are currently receiving it and it’s about to expire, and to individuals who have extended their 99 weeks of benefits, jobs are needed. And they’re about to go home for the holidays and some individuals they’re not going to have a holiday. They’re sleeping out on the streets, sleeping in tents. It’s unreal. They need to  grow up and fast.”

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