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Advocate: Wrong Time to be Ending Jobless Aid

November 19, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - More than 50,000 Arizonans are at risk of losing their unemployment benefits during the holiday season if Congress lets federal support for extended unemployment insurance expire. However, such benefits have never been ended when the jobless rate is above seven percent, and Arizona Community Action Association director Cynthia Zwick says this is not the time to start.

"The indication is both at the national level and at the state level that our economy is not going to recover any time soon, and that jobs are going to continue to be hard to find. There's one available job for every five unemployed workers searching for work."

Arizona's unemployment rate remains at 9.5 percent, matching a 27-year high. A new national poll from Hart Research Associates shows voters favor continuing extended jobless benefits by 60 percent to 37 percent, even when reminded of the soaring federal deficit.

Continuing the support would not add weeks of unemployment insurance, just pay for the additional weeks now available. Those additional weeks can be a lifeline for the long-term unemployed.

Robert Pugh's situation is an example of the need. He's 59 and has worked steadily since he was 16, mostly as a chef but more recently as a financial analyst. That job was eliminated this year, and he says he has about four weeks of benefits left.

"I'm barely surviving. I can pay my rent, buy enough food to eat, pay my insurance, put gas in my car. If I run out, I'm going to have to move out of my house and basically I'm going to be homeless."

Zwick rejects the idea that extended jobless benefits are discouraging the unemployed from seeking work.

"In Arizona, if you are offered a suitable job and you don't take that job, you will lose your unemployment benefits."

Eliminating extended benefits now could actually worsen Arizona's jobless rate, Zwick points out, because those receiving checks spend the money immediately, helping to keep retail sector workers employed.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ