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Jobless AZ Workers Desperate for Congress to Extend Benefits

July 15, 2010

TUCSON, Ariz. - The U.S. Senate is expected to try again next week to restore extended jobless benefits that expired at the end of May. Unemployed Arizonans had been eligible to get checks for up to 99 weeks, but the limit is now 26 weeks without the federal aid.

Tucson electrician Mark Estes has been out of work 11 months. He had been getting about $850 a month in benefits. Now he and his two daughters are facing homelessness.

"I'm ashamed to say that I'm sleeping on an air mattress in the back room of my mom's house. So me and the kids and my fiance are all living here with her, and she's floating us. She's at the point where she wants us out of here."

Estes and his family are subsisting on food stamps and use the state's Access program for health care. He's enrolled in several training classes and holds out hope that additional job skills will lead to employment before too long.

A report this week from the Economic Policy Institute shows there are still five unemployed workers for every job opening. Estes says he has applied for several jobs outside his profession without luck.

"There's been a few convenience store jobs that I've applied for. There's been a few jobs that I've applied for at material supply houses, Lowe's, that kind of thing. But again, the market is so flooded, it's just hard to get a job out there any more."

Estes says he has very little left except for his family and his voice, which he says will be heard in the November elections.

"You know, I have a right to vote. I'm going to exercise that right, and I'm going to pay attention to who's doing what, how often, what their focus is directed on, and vote from my heart."

Senators who oppose renewing extended jobless benefits want any new benefits paid for with cuts to other federal spending.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ