District 26 lawmakers Sen. Al Melvin and Rep. Vic Williams support the Arizona Legislature’s non-vote that ended unemployment benefits for more than 15,000 people last week.
Gov. Jan Brewer called the legislature into special session on June 10 to vote on extending unemployment benefits for those who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. The session was adjourned without a vote on June 13.
If the legislature had acted, unemployment benefits would have continued for up to 79 weeks through a federally funded emergency aid program worth $3.5 million.
Melvin and the GOP-led legislature said Arizona’s unemployed should not be adding to the national debt.
“It wasn’t as simple as an up or down vote. We needed to look at other things,” said Melvin. “They say if Arizona doesn’t spend it, someone else will.”
“The bottom line is this is (President Barack Obama’s) money. This is Chinese money. For every $1 the United States spends, 40 cents of it is borrowed. We are literally placing generations who haven’t been born yet in debt. When does it end?”
Williams said Brewer didn’t have a bill prepared, and didn’t line up the votes to back the measure.
Brian Clymer, LD 26 Democratic chair, said he questions why Brewer called the session without being prepared, but said it was still the duty of the legislature to pass the benefits for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
“I think this is a big loss to Arizonans,” he said. “There are not a lot of jobs and our fragile economy needs all the help it can get. Sen. Melvin sees unemployment as an incentive not to work. That’s like saying Medicare is an incentive not to get better.”
In a June 13 written statement, Brewer said, “I’m disappointed the legislature was unable to muster the support needed to extend federal assistance for jobless Arizonans. I remain concerned and deeply saddened for those families whose unemployment assistance will shortly expire, especially in this uncertain job market.”
While the governor is entitled to her opinion, Williams said, there is a lot more that must be considered when it comes to the state’s unemployment rate, which stands at 9.1 percent.
“I would be more than happy accepting federal dollars as long as we take additional steps to help the economy,” he said. “I respectfully disagree with the governor on how we are going to improve the economy in Arizona.”
Melvin and Williams said there should be more requirements put in place before benefits can be extended. Instead of requiring the jobless to search for a job two days a week, Melvin said it should be increased to four, and those receiving benefits should be required to participate in community service.
Evelyn Wright, of the Pima County One Stop Career Center, said increasing the number of days a person searches for a job isn’t the problem. The problem is there are three people for every job opening.
“We’ve seen professionals who have never been out of work more than a week in their lives coming in and taking more than a year and a half to find a job,” Wright said. “I know you eventually have to cut off benefits like this, but you have families and children who are really dependent on it. If they can extend these benefits, that’s what they need to do.”
The picture remains grim, and Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said they have seen firsthand how the unemployed are struggling to just get by.
The state’s maximum unemployment benefits amount to $240 a week, or $960 a month.
Many of the state’s unemployed have been forced to choose which bills to pay each month, making mortgage or rent a priority over utilities.
“These are tough times, and I understand the debate,” said Davidson. “With unemployment, it’s like a domino effect. People are losing their homes. We see through utility accounts where people just can’t pay.”
Davidson said they have created payment plans and try to work with residents as much as possible.
Wright said she has helped residents from all over Pima County with varying job experience from entry-level workers to CEOs.
“The layoffs are still happening, but have slowed down,” said Wright. “But, hiring is still extremely conservative.”
With businesses hesitant to hire, the state’s unemployed have few alternatives. Some taking positions in fast food or bagging groceries, which means fewer jobs for area youth, Wright said.
Sen. Melvin and Rep. Williams agreed getting residents back to work is the biggest priority.
Melvin said a project involving the Union Pacific Railroad near Picacho Peak, and efforts to get the Rosemont Mine operations opened in the Santa Rita Mountains east of Tucson, will go a long way toward creating jobs in the region.
While 14,697 were immediately impacted by the state’s non-action, the Department of Economic Security estimates another 30,000 will need the extended benefits before the end of the year.
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Employment and career service training available.
Call Pima County One Stop Career Centers at 243-6700 or 798-0500.