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One Man, One Mower - Riding Out the Unemployment Debate

July 20, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - One man with a firsthand view of the Congressional fight over extending unemployment benefits can be seen in Southeast Portland's Lents neighborhood - pushing a lawnmower. Craig Petersen is going door to door, asking people if he can mow their yards for ten bucks.

His unemployment benefits of $340 a week have run out, and he says he's applied for dozens of jobs, without even a return phone call. He and his wife, also unemployed, don't have small children, so they're not eligible for many types of government assistance. She's looking for work cleaning houses. Petersen says he has worked since age 15, and never expected to lose his home and vehicle to joblessness.

"I'm 47 years old and I'm pushin' a lawnmower around, just asking to mow their yard. Hey, at least I'm not standing out on the corner with a sign, y'know, asking for free handouts. I figured this way, at least I'm doing honest work."

He says his 20-year-old son contributes to the family income, but his work hours have been cut in half and it will be tough to pay the August rent.

On Tuesday, the Senate is expected to succeed in breaking the Republican filibuster and temporarily extending unemployment benefits once again, but the fight will continue over how to pay the $33 billion price tag.

Those who oppose the extension say getting unemployment checks for long time periods discourages people from looking for work. Petersen disagrees.

"I really think we need that other extension to help get that economy going. They're worried that our children are gonna pay for it. Well, right, you want all the children on the streets right now? People are losing their homes right now. Everybody is hitting the churches and the food banks."

Those who approve of extending unemployment benefits sound a lot like Petersen. They say those who receive the money will spend it promptly, which stimulates the economy.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR