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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: congress

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April 8, 2014 at 6:22 AM

U.S. Senate passes unemployment insurance extension, House should follow

U.S. House Republican leaders continue to make themselves easy targets for ridicule on issues that should have bipartisan support. Last year, they nearly derailed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. For months, they have refused to consider comprehensive immigration reform. And now, they appear ready to deny unemployment benefits to more than two million Americans in desperate need of help as they continue to seek jobs.

Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants, including U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, are in no rush to provide temporary assistance to those trying to re-enter the work force. Meanwhile, struggling job-seekers such as Calvin Graedel of West Seattle find themselves spending their life savings and selling their homes to make ends meet.

Watch Graedel share his story in the video below, which was shot last month. (View the editorial board’s page featuring previous editorials, more videos, reader views and resources.)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits. All Democrats and six Republicans signed on. But according to The Huffington Post, the bill’s future in the House is bleak.


0 Comments | Topics: congress, extension, unemployment

March 14, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Video: Workers struggle with loss of federal unemployment benefits

Corrected version

Unemployment is not an easy topic to write about. Much of the focus in media coverage is on faceless numbers and reports. Too often, Republicans and Democrats twist those figures for political purposes, sometimes accusing the jobless of abusing government assistance and refusing to better themselves. The naysayers forget the unemployed are real people struggling to raise families and make ends meet. The challenges they face are vastly different from one another, too.

Nearly 2 million Americans are struggling with long-term unemployment, which means they have not been able to find work after receiving a total of 26 weeks of state jobless benefits. Since 2008, Congress has kicked in emergency assistance at the 27-week mark to help these workers pay their bills as they continue to look for work. In December, Congress failed to extend this important lifeline, profoundly affecting the lives of people who are used to working, paying taxes and contributing to their local economies.

Calvin Graedel and Nichole Clemens are among the nearly tens of thousands of long-term unemployed Washington residents who stopped receiving temporary assistance after Dec. 28.

Watch their stories below.

Graedel, 60, worked as a regional sales manager until he lost his job in November 2012. Though he did well, saved his money and  invested in retirement, finding work has been anything but easy. He recently shared his story with us from his West Seattle home, which he is planning to put on the market this month:

Clemens, 36, worked as a medical-records clerk until March 2013. The single mother of two daughters says she was making $16 an hour. She feels the longer she has gone without work, the harder it has become to get an interview. She shared her story from an apartment in Kent, where she is behind on rent.


0 Comments | More in Video | Topics: congress, federal unemployment extension, poverty

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


0 Comments | Topics: congress, federal unemployment, jobless benefits

February 21, 2014 at 6:03 AM

Tell us how unemployment benefits affect you

The Seattle Times’ Monday editorial calling on Congress to extend unemployment benefits has received some heavy online traffic. Obviously, this issue hits a nerve for many of you out there who are searching for work or know someone who is. Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

In Washington state, at least 28,000 job-seekers so far have lost a critical financial lifeline. Many have put this money immediately into their local economies. It’s how they have afforded basic necessities such as rent, gas, groceries and utilities…

Without an extension, thousands more throughout Washington will continue to lose emergency federal assistance each week after their regular state benefits run out at 26 weeks.

Workers looking for jobs beyond that period now make up nearly 30 percent of the state’s unemployed population. There is an average of three applicants for every job opening.

There’s good reason for lawmakers to return from recess and re-start this debate. According to a January Quinnipiac University poll, 58 percent of respondents support continuing this financial lifeline for those who’ve exhausted their state benefits.

Share your thoughts with us in the form below.


0 Comments | Topics: congress, federal government, unemployment insurance

January 30, 2014 at 6:07 AM

Kenneth Bae’s family attends SOTU, seeks more help

Good on Washington’s congressional delegates for meeting this week with Kenneth Bae’s family. Here’s a link to the editorial board’s Monday editorial calling on officials in D.C. to keep up their efforts to help free the former Lynnwood resident and American tour operator from a North Korean prison, where he has been locked for nearly 15 months.

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, his mother, Myunghee Bae and his son, Jonathan Bae, have spent the last several days raising awareness of Bae’s plight in New York City and in the nation’s capitol. On Tuesday, Chung and the elder Bae attended President Obama’s State of the Union address as the guests of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.

If you’re just learning about Bae’s case, watch Chung talk about her brother with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell below:

On Tuesday, the family met for the first time with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (Scroll down to read their official statement after the talk.) One day later, both Larsen and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent press releases to the media promising they will continue to advocate on the family’s behalf. Murray said she will keep pressuring top U.S. State Department officials “to engage the North Korean government directly and bring Mr. Bae back to the United States.”


0 Comments | Topics: congress, kenneth bae, north korea

January 9, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Tell Congress to extend jobless benefits

The U.S. Senate returned to work this week and shocked some by advancing a temporary extension of the same jobless benefits it allowed to expire on Dec. 28. But as various news outlets such as Politico and The New York Times report, the measure is nowhere close to passage and could face an even tougher battle in the more conservative House.

Americans should pressure their federal elected officials to set aside ideology and pass the bill. Be heartened by the fact that six Republicans helped Democrats break a filibuster to move the issue closer to a vote. One of the legislation’s sponsors is U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., which indicates this doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. It’s about helping the long-term unemployed — in blue, red and purple states — rebound and contribute to their local economies.

National and state jobs reports have certainly shown some improvement since the most recent recession officially began in December 2007, but as the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows, the ratio between job openings and job applicants is still about 3 to 1.

Source: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 10, 2013

Source: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dec. 10, 2013

If you doubt the need for this boost of support or think it’s just another bad example of welfare, read this report from The Washington Post. Reporter Brad Plumer offers seven compelling reasons why these benefits are necessary for the country to stay on the course toward a full, stable economic recovery. Long-term unemployment, which some define as lasting 27 weeks or more, is not a result of workers being unproductive. It’s a result of one of the worst recessions in modern U.S. history and technological advances that have made some jobs disappear.


0 Comments | Topics: congress, Jay Inslee, unemployment

October 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Poll: Time to strip the NFL of its nonprofit status?

Are we so blinded by our love of sports that we’re willing to be fleeced by the most profitable sports league in the world and its billionaire team owners?

The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Tennessee Titans 20-13 Sunday October 13, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (BETTINA HANSEN/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

The Seattle Seahawks defeat the Tennessee Titans 20-13 Sunday October 13, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

I couldn’t make it past the first graph of this recent Atlantic magazine story, an excerpt from Gregg Easterbrook‘s book “The King of Sports,” without fuming.

In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.

Throughout the report, Easterbrook provides an exhaustive look at how American taxpayers have financed “70 percent of the capital cost of  NFL stadiums,” in addition to many ongoing infrastructure and operating costs. Here’s a tidbit about the Seattle Seahawks:

CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year).

The Seahawks are a great team, but this is just plain wrong, especially when we’re struggling to fully fund public education and to sustain the cost of essential services such as the Metro transit system and health care.

Here’s the kicker: The National Football League is tax exempt. To the IRS, the NFL has been known as the Nonprofit Football League for decades. NBC News reports it gets away with this by only claiming tax immunity for the main office, which operated in 2011 with about $255 million worth of revenue. The NFL’s main function is to distribute billions generated from licensing and television deals to its 32 for-profit teams, each worth on average $1.2 billion according to this Forbes report. Still doesn’t pass the smell test. How many trade or charitable organizations pay their top official (in this case NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) nearly $30 million?


0 Comments | Topics: congress, football, NFL

October 29, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Congress must compromise on farm bill

Farmers Market in San Francisco, Ca. (Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Farmers Market in San Francisco, Ca.
(Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Will the umpteenth time be a charm for the House and Senate as lawmakers begin ironing out differences on a half-trillion dollar farm bill? I hope so. While both sides are in agreement on some parts of the five-year program – for example, eliminating $5 billion subsidy paid to farmers and landowners whether they grow crops or not – ugly battles over steep cuts to the food stamps program stalled past talks.

Not to mention the government shutdown. With that madness over, cooler heads ought to prevail on a compromise that sets smart, economical farm and nutrition policy for the next five years.  Failure could mean higher milk prices and other food-related consequences outlined in this Seattle Times story. Also at stake is Washington state’s $40 billion agriculture industry, the third largest exporter in the nation and the source of 160,000 local jobs.

Conversations west of the Cascades have centered on the school nutrition program. That’s certainly a big deal to large and urban school districts, but jobs supported by the farm bill should resonate in the Seattle area as well.  Nearly 40 percent of Washington jobs are dependent on trade. Agriculture products make up nearly 50 percent of the Port of Seattle’s total exports (totaling $4.3 billion) and support 22,000 port workers, according to a joint press release from Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene.


0 Comments | Topics: congress, farm bill, food policy

October 22, 2013 at 6:50 AM

Hey, Congress, shutdown Leadership PACs

If voter anger and frustration with Congress are waning after the mindless closure of the federal government, and flirtation with a massive credit debacle, a “60 Minutes” report will renew the head-shaking disgust. Correspondent Steve Kroft laid out the pure self-serving greed and aggrandizement behind a lucrative device known as Leadership PACs. The rules around…


0 Comments | Topics: 60 Minutes, congress, Leadership PACs

October 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Catch mental health problems early

In the vast arena of public education, the part least understood or addressed well is mental health. Think about it. Schools remain vigilant about ensuring students perform well academically. Immunizations are legally required and periodic check-ups for hearing and vision remain even as school systems have cut back in many areas. These things are appropriate because they directly impact students in the classroom. Mental health…


0 Comments | Topics: barack obama, children, congress

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