Chicago Indymedia :
Chicago Indymedia

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Benefit Cutoff Looms for 1 Million Laid-Off Workers

WASHINGTON - Jo-Anne Hurlston cannot find a job after nearly six months of searching, even with her master's degree and experience in education, human resources, and the hospitality industry.
She's one of nearly 1 million unemployed workers across the country who will start losing jobless benefits three days after Christmas because Congress failed to grant an extension before leaving for the year.

''All the money that's being spent on homeland security and we're left stranded,'' said Hurlston, 47, a single mother with a 12-year-old daughter. ''If they want more money for homeland security, we have to be able to work to pay taxes.''

Congress passed a 13-week extension in federal benefits in March, on top of the maximum 26 weeks that laid-off workers usually can receive through states. But the extension benefits start expiring Dec. 28.

The Senate and House passed separate legislation last week providing for another extension. But each side refused to accept the other's plan.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that new applications for unemployment insurance fell by a seasonally adjusted 25,000 to 376,000 for the work week ending Nov. 16, leaving claims at their lowest level since the week ending July 20.

Hurlston was laid off in June from her $42,000-a-year job at the Marriott Hospitality Public Charter School in Washington, where she was dean of career and student services. She had worked there for three years.

She receives about $550 every two weeks in unemployment benefits. Hurlston, who is living with her mother, is substitute teaching for extra money, but it hardly pays the bills. For that, she's forced to dip into her retirement savings. She's sent out hundreds of resumes and has been called in for just two interviews without success.

''In the beginning there was anger, then frustration, and now distress,'' she said. ''I never ever thought it would take this long to find a job. Without my mother I probably would be in a homeless shelter right now.''

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney criticized House Republicans for ''turning their backs on unemployed workers'' while approving legislation sought by drug companies and insurance companies in last-minute legislation before adjourning. That ''is just plain mean-spirited and perverse,'' he said.

The Senate's $5 billion plan would have extended benefits an additional 13 weeks for people currently receiving them. The House passed a more modest $900 million plan of five extra weeks for workers in a few states with high unemployment rates.

Some economists argue that the cost isn't a burden on the rest of government because the federal unemployment insurance trust fund contains more than $25 billion for such purposes. Such spending also will help boost the economy, they say.

''These are economic times that demand using such funds,'' said Wendell Primus, a director at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning institution.

Shirley Deane, 53, said that last December she lost her $25,000-a-year job as an administrative secretary at Howard University in Washington and still cannot find work.

She ran out of unemployment benefits in August, and has no health insurance and no retirement savings. The future looks bleak, she said.

''I've been taking tests, going on interviews,'' she said. ''I've never had this hard a problem finding a job. Never.''



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