Doggett pushes extension of long-term unemployment benefits

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 1 at 7:22 PM

AUSTIN -- Depending upon who you talk to, unemployment can be a touchy subject in Austin. When it comes to benefits for the long-term unemployed, it can get even touchier.

"I just feel that unemployment shouldn't be collected if you're able to work," Austin resident Timothy Fall told KVUE News Thursday.

Tom Maxwell said he wouldn't be opposed to extending more benefits for those who truly can't find a job, but added a caveat.

"Personally, I'd like to see it extended for those who are actively seeking employment," said Maxwell. "But for the people that are just loafing and picking up whatever they can, not working, not having any desire to work, I can't support that."

At a media conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., unemployed workers voiced their frustration.

"I've posted resumes and applied for hundreds of jobs, and I've had two telephone interviews," said former Baltimore home lending worker David DeCarlo, who called being unemployed "extremely scary."

"I want to get back to work. As a matter of fact, I need to get back to work," said veteran and former Pittsburgh public transit driver Vincent Brandon.

Federal unemployment insurance is set to expire New Year's Eve, and once that happens many who may have qualified for extended unemployment benefits in 2012 will no longer be able to.

"If we don't have an extension, there'll be nothing for us. Our mortgages will run out, there'll be no more food on the table for our families," said Tony Federico, a former bricklayer from the Bronx, New York.

"The rent won't wait. The car payment, the pickup truck payment won't wait on the Congress. We need to act now," said Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who called the conference to garner support for a resolution to extend long-term benefits through next year.

"We're in the situation where there are about four Americans searching for every job that is open, and so this is a way of helping those families survive during these challenging times," Doggett told KVUE Thursday.

Part of the resolution H.R. 3346 would extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, a program funded entirely by the federal government that offers up to 73 weeks of compensation after state unemployment compensation is exhausted.

On Tuesday, the Texas Workforce Commission announced that Texas recently qualified for an additional six weeks of unemployment coverage, bringing the maximum to 99 weeks of benefits. The TWC will send letters to some 220,000 people who may be eligible.

In Texas, individuals can qualify for the additional 73 weeks after exhausting the 26 weeks provided under the state unemployment program. If the current program is allowed to expire, those who don't exceed the 26-week mark before January 1, 2012, will not be eligible for the extended benefits.

With lawmakers at every level grappling over spending cuts, extending the long-term benefits program isn't universally popular.

Lucy Nashed, spokesperson for Governor Rick Perry, said in a statement, "People want a paycheck, not an employment check. The federal government should focus on reducing the regulatory and tax burden on employers so they can create jobs and fuel our economy."

Austin Congressman Michael McCaul told KVUE in a statement, "Unemployment benefits should be used as a safety net for Americans who are out of work but actively searching for employment. Unfortunately, extending these benefits for as much as two years has proven to be a disincentive to finding work. There are businesses in my district that are hiring but found that some would prefer to receive these repeatedly extended benefits over working."

Critics have faulted long-term unemployment insurance for reducing the incentive to find a job. Doggett argues people have to prove they're looking to even qualify.

"Each of these people who would receive any of these unemployment insurance benefits must show that they're involved -- week in, week out -- in an active job search," said Doggett. "These are people are trying to find a job, but the economy is not providing all the jobs needed to assure them employment."

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