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No Room at the Inn for the Unemployed?

December 1, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Just weeks before Christmas, more than 10,000 West Virginians are set to lose their unemployment insurance, since Congress has let federal support for extended benefits expire. The federal government has never before ended these benefits when the unemployment rate has been higher than seven percent.

The Reverend Dennis Sparks is executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. He believes supporting the unemployed is a good economic stimulus strategy – but more importantly, he says, it's a moral imperative.

"The Christmas story is about that. We could do two things at once – we could the help the economy and we could help families have the kind of Christmas and security they need."

The AFL-CIO is lobbying Congress to continue supporting the benefits. Dan Poling, director of governmental affairs for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in West Virginia, is going to Washington as part of that effort. He says it's a serious issue since the construction industry has been so slow.

"A lot of it is seasonal work and the winter's coming on now; and those who didn't get enough work during the summer aren't gonna make it through the winter."

Continuing the support would not add weeks of unemployment insurance, just pay for the additional weeks that are now available. Poling says those extra weeks are important when there are so few jobs available, even when people looking.

"People have a perception that people are drawing unemployment because they don't want to work. And I represent about 2,000 members and that's not true. They want to work – and all I have to do is call them and tell them they've got a job and they'll go to work."

Nationwide, two million people could lose their unemployment benefit checks. Republican leaders say benefits should not be extended without spending cuts to offset the cost, although Democrats point out that GOP lawmakers also say they want to expand the deficit by ten times as much to continue tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV