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March 4, 2014 at 6:11 AM

Readers share stories of losing federal unemployment benefits

Opinion Northwest recently asked for readers’ thoughts on Congress’ failure so far to extend federal unemployment insurance. The Feb. 21 blog post followed this editorial calling on lawmakers to help struggling but active job-seekers.

Within days, the post received more than 300 responses from across the country — the map at the top of this post shows locations of responses we received. Many people explained how the temporary assistance had helped them to keep their families housed and their Internet connections available so that they could post their resumes online. A few disagreed with the extension, saying it discourages the long-term unemployed from trying harder to find work. Older workers offered heart-wrenching stories about the difficulty of getting an interview and holding on to a position in today’s economy. During the process of verifying a few different writers’ identities, a few phone numbers were disconnected.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Senate is plotting again to pass an extension measure with the help of some Republicans. The Congressional Budget Office outlined the benefits of a short-term fix in this Dec. 3 analysis. “Recipients of the additional benefits would increase their spending on consumer goods and services. That increase in aggregate demand would encourage businesses to boost production and hire more workers than they otherwise would, particularly given the expected slack in the capital and labor markets,” the report concludes.

Here in Washington state, the Employment Security Department reports about 28,000 people exhausted their federal benefits on Dec. 28 after Congress failed to act. Since then, the agency estimates thousands more drop out of the system every week.

What happens to them now?

Scroll down to read some of their stories.

Support a federal extension of unemployment insurance:

I support the extension due to the fact that I lost my job of 29 years in June. My benefits ran out in January. No one will hire me due to my age. I’m 64 years old. Having 26 weeks is not long enough to find a job at my age. It is devastating to our budget with first the loss of a long-term job, and then no unemployment to help with expenses. My job loss was due to my position being eliminated. I would have loved to continue working until I was old enough to retire, but my employer had other plans. We have now had to put our home up for sale, we sold our second vehicle and have cut out anything possible to cut back. I’ve gone from a job that paid over $3,000 a month, to unemployment at less than half of that amount, and now down to zero for my income — it is hard to live on just my husband’s Social Security. I need to work, and have worked since I was a teenager. I need the extra weeks of unemployment to carry me until I can find a job. It is not right to not extend the benefits to those of us who are struggling to find a job. Something needs to be done to help all us who are out of work.

— Sharon Washburn, Yakima

I was laid off from King County in September of 2013. I was working as the Department of Transportation’s only wildlife biologist on staff.

I have had many interviews, but none have yet ended in a job offer. Believe me, if you have not been through this experience of being laid off and searching for work, it is not only a full-time endeavor, it also barely pays the bills (and I am a single person with no dependents, no debt, no mortgage). It also takes its toll on one’s mental and physical health, going through bouts of depression and feelings of self-worth. In four weeks, my unemployment insurance will run out. It’s a scary prospect to not have any income coming in when I have been trying so hard, day in and day out to find employment in my field.

I wish that all of the Republicans who continuously have voted down extending unemployment benefits could be laid off and see how tough it is to find a job in today’s market. Then they might be more empathetic for the nearly 2 million people who are losing their homes, losing their savings and ultimately losing hope without this vital lifeline between jobs. But as long as our representatives have their cushy jobs, with full benefits, they can’t relate. Therefore, I don’t hold out much hope for an extension. Listen to your constituents Congress. That’s YOUR job.

— Todd Martin,  Seattle

I have been laid off for more than six months now and I am using my life savings and help from family members to pay my bills and put food on the table. Things are so tough financially that it’s hard to focus on looking for jobs. I have to figure out how to survive every day and how to support my family. Unemployment benefits need to be extended to give people a resource to use to survive while looking for work.

— Roger Montoya, Seattle

I am one of the thousands who lost their benefits. I will be 60 this month. No one wants to hire older people. I am sure they figure it is not worth the time. I have been in sales for 40 years. I have sold different products and have been successful. The job market is awful. Employers are so specific as to criteria. Employers are able to delay and pick and choose employees. They are in no hurry to hire. The unemployment rate is way higher than what is being published. Those of us who are unemployed have no lobbyist, no advocate.

— Calvin Graedel, Seattle

I used to work in corporate procurement. Federal unemployment benefits helped me to pay for storage since I no longer can afford an apartment in Seattle. I also used the money to pay for my LinkedIn account to help network with potential recruiters and apply for jobs, to put gas in my car to go to interviews, and to pay for electricity so I can shower and cook.

One of the great ideas I’ve read about is from this petition. Congress should use the extra $5.7 billion in the war budget to pay for a three-month extension of assistance to long-term unemployed Americans, currently numbering 1.7 million, instead of using that $5.7 billion for Pentagon contractor pork that the Pentagon doesn’t want and doesn’t need.

— Frank Motley, Federal Way

I support an extension for an obvious and highly biased reason — I’m unemployed. Unemployment should not become synonymous with lazy people who won’t get off their backsides and prefer to suck at the teat of Mother UI.

I have over 20 years experience at the upper management level. Lots of success, great references, well-honed interviewing skills and gray hair: A deadly combination in the current job market. I’m not blaming it all on age, but ageism is real and it does take longer to find work. And for those of you who instantly think we should just work for less, I’m happy to. But then I’m overqualified, which scares potential employers.

I use my unemployment, which I paid into for many years, to help keep my house, get food on the table and try to stay on top of utility bills. I don’t vacation, shop, go to the theater, etc. I work hard at finding work. And the UI payments go a long way toward helping me become a good statistic instead of a tragic one that requires even more state or federal support since I can’t pay my own way.

And I still find it fascinating that a government that was so ready to support the very organizations that created our current situation is so willing to stomp on those left in its financial dust.

— Kris Reed, Bellevue

Opposed to an extension:

Having experienced many months of unemployment myself during the Reagan Recession without qualifying for any benefits, I think a sense of urgency is vital to returning to employment. I took any temp job I could get, and accepted a position that was not in my career path. But the experience proved valuable later, especially the lesson in humility and having savings for a rainy day. I am a progressive, but don’t agree with unlimited extensions.

— Rick Bergdahl, Issaquah

No, I do not support an extension of federal unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance is dangerous.

Benefits are disbursed based on an assumption of approval. In many cases, it becomes an overpayment, and must be paid back, with interest. The unemployment insurance department acknowledges this, and considers it a source of income.

Applicants should never be considered a source of income. This is nothing short of predatory lending.

I filed some years ago, received money, and then was asked to repay. It was considered a “non-fraud overpayment,” which means they acknowledge I wasn’t trying to do anything wrong.

It was $8,095. Add $80.95 interest every month while I was homeless and out of it for a few years, and now it’s $11,373. If I don’t pay $341 every month, there would be interest. If I get a job, they would garnish. If I put money in the bank, they would take it. If I go bankrupt, the debt would remain.

I don’t recommend unemployment insurance to anyone. I don’t think it should expand. I think they should either give out money, or not. I think they should stop preying on the unemployed. If government is intended to balance itself, then whose job is it to fix this?

— Allen Ereaux, Mountlake Terrace

The system is flawed. I personally know people who are retired with over a million dollars in their IRAs legally drawing unemployment benefits. They retired, then took a part time job and were let go. How fair is that? I also know people drawing benefits who are working for cash. Is anyone minding the store?

— Tom Malicki, Mount Vernon

Comments | Topics: congress, federal unemployment, jobless benefits

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