Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Profiles in Crime: Congressional Republicans and Unemployment

It is a funny thing how Congressional Republicans suddenly care about our budget deficit. Indeed, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have grown very concerned about the deficit, at least when it comes to helping the unemployed.

You see, $30 billion for the unemployed is just too much. Then again, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner had no problem with voting for the Wall Street bailout of 2008, which added over $700 billion to our deficit (deficit spending with no offsetting cuts in other programs or tax increases to pay for it).

If only our unemployed were banks and insurance companies, maybe House Minority Leader Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell would pretend to care about them. Obviously, they are not. They are real, live human beings with needs, the kind the average Republican member of Congress does not want to hear about, unless you are pre-born or have the word incorporated at the end of your name.

Time runs out for 1.2 million on unemployment
By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

(CNN) -- With her unemployment benefits coming to a halt, Miriam Cintron is forced to make a difficult choice between health insurance and daily expenses.

Signing into her unemployment benefits account last week, the New Yorker was horrified to see she hadn't received any money for three weeks, she says.

What would the four-year cancer survivor do if she couldn't afford to pay her $650 monthly COBRA payment? Her health insurance helped pay for life-saving treatment before, so giving it up is not an option, she says.

When Cintron was laid off from her job as a case worker at a homeless shelter in late 2008, she never imagined she'd go on unemployment. But even with 17 years experience, she's been unable to land a new job.

Cintron isn't alone. Unemployment benefits are set to run dry for 1.2 million people nationwide Friday after the U.S. Senate decided not to extend a deadline for these benefits last week, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Come Saturday, the number of people cut from unemployment benefits will surge to 1.63 million, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates. By mid-July, about 2 million unemployed Americans could lose their benefits.

Before last month, out-of-work Americans were eligible for extensions once they maxed out at 26 weeks of state benefits and 73 weeks of federal benefits -- a total of 99 weeks. But, Senate Republicans blocked the extension with a 57-14 vote last week.

The House failed Tuesday to pass the bill and it's unclear whether House Democratic leaders will take another crack at passing the legislation before they break for the July Fourth weekend.

"The reality is that we have the worst job market on record going back to the Great Recession," says Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director at National Employment Law Project.

"There's only one job available for every five unemployed workers."

For people who are apt to say, "Go find a job," Emsellem says the predicament of the unemployed isn't easy to escape.

"For anybody that has a thought in their head that unemployed workers are to blame for their situation, the reality is that workers are struggling hard to find work, but the jobs are just not there."

National Employment Law Project resources for the unemployed

While Cintron has been struggling to make ends meet for the last year-and-a-half, she worries about other people in the same predicament.

"My story is one story and it's unique," she says. "But, there are so many people with children, other issues, that are in dire situations."

Are you one of the 1.2 million? Share your unemployment story

"I'm just shocked that more attention isn't being paid to this story."

She's thankful she doesn't have any children relying on her for support right now. But, she does care for her mother. Part of Cintron's unemployment checks have been going toward her mother's expenses since she moved in with her a few months before Cintron lost her job.

Cintron's $425 unemployment check each week -- or $1,700 each month -- has to stretch a long way. She pitches in for appliances, groceries and whatever else her mother needs. Health insurance payments burn a hole in her wallet at a whopping $650 per month. And then there's the storage fee of $300 she pays for all her excess furniture from her old apartment.

If Congress fails to pass the bill granting the unemployment benefit extensions this week, Cintron says she will only be able to stay afloat for a month. She will have to dip into her 401(k) retirement plan to continue to pay for health care, she says.

As to what happens after that, Cintron says she just doesn't know.

"I will try to survive and see what I can do for paying the health insurance for at least another few months with my 401(k)."

"I don't qualify for Medicaid, I make too much money. I have to pay the $650 to a private health insurer."

Finding the income to support her expensive health insurance hasn't been an easy task. For the last year-and-a-half, Cintron has been applying to jobs at homeless shelters in New York. Even though she has landed several interviews, they haven't amounted to anything.

"The agencies where I'm applying to, they're all cutting back too," she says, citing city funding cutbacks.

Cintron is considering part-time or customer service work as a last resort, but she's worried she may be worse off.

"I certainly don't want to live on unemployment," she says. "The customer service jobs don't pay well, don't have health insurance. I really need insurance because I'm a cancer survivor."

For now, Cintron keeps logging into the unemployment benefits website, typing in her account number and trying to claim benefits.

Cintron says the New York State Department of Labor has instructed her to keep logging in as normal, even though she's not getting a dime. Cintron says the website is confusing and she's unsure of how many extensions she's had.

With all the stress and lack of income, Cintron's been relying on hobbies to try to keep her spirits up.

Ever since she lost her job, she's been an active iReporter, scouting events and stories in her native New York. Videography and photography have become her focus. In this digital age, it's free for her to upload her images, so it's a cheap hobby.

See Cintron's iReports over the years

Her other passion is music. She's sad she's had to nix going to concerts, but says she's lucky to live in a city where so many free shows are going on at any time.

Even though she's found ways to lead a semi-normal life, her time being unemployed is starting to wear her down.

"I'm a glass half-full kind of person. I'm a very positive person. It's very hard for me to get into this feeling sorry for myself, what-am-I-going-to-do mode," she says.

"But I am getting there."

And the solution to our GOP friends? Why, just beg your neighbor or paint your doctor's barn. Surely, that should pay off your medical bills by, say, 2085.

Meanwhile, these same people allow AIG, Bank of America, and Bear Sterns to run off with over $700 billion of our money. The same Congressmen Boehner and McConnell who decry poor people getting $30 billion out of a $3.6-plus trillion federal budget (0.83% of our federal budget and less than 0.25% of our national debt) see nothing wrong with voting for the $400 billion of pure deficit spending in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, or the $50-plus billion of deficit spending allocated to the Department of Education, our states, and public schools through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001--legislation that was passed under a Republican Administration and supported by the current Republican Congressional leadership. Throw in the trillion-plus dollars added to our national debt by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that both Boehner and McConnell supported (to say nothing of the rest of the Republican Party), but unemployment benefits would be too much. After all, there is a foreign country to spend hundreds of billions on.

Here is Rep. Mike Pence sounding comparatively socialist when it comes to spending our money on killing (i.e., "liberating") Muslims.

Yes, Rep. Pence, you can never put a price on freedom--that is, unless it is for your own citizens. And apparently, our citizens are going pretty cheap these days because those members of Congress think it is too burdensome to spend $30 billion to keep them from being kicked to the streets. If only we could get the Republicans to be so dedicated to wanting to help their own people, for a change. Of course, that would mean getting Reps. Pence and Boehner and Senator McConnell to see unemployed folks as fellow citizens and full people. I think we all know the likelihood of that happening.

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