Lawmakers just playing politics with the most vulnerable - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

Lawmakers just playing politics with the most vulnerable

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Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 10:33 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Tue Jun 28, 2011.

Justin Jones sees the faces that come into his class every day. They're scared. Really scared.

As a trainer with Maricopa Workforce Connections, it's his job to help people find jobs by teaching them how to write a resume, learn new job skills and better understand the labor market they're desperately trying to enter.

MWC certainly has had its share of success stories, but Jones said there just aren't enough employment opportunities out there for the people who have the skills to fill those positions.

And with the Legislature's refusal this week to extend unemployment benefits for 15,000 out-of-work Arizonans who have maxed out on their benefits - and an additional 20,000 to 30,000 people by the end of the year - those jobless fears are about to become full-fledged nightmares.

"I was talking to a customer two days ago," Jones said Friday. "She said ‘I'm afraid my benefits are going to be cut off. I'm going to be able to drive to church, where I can try and find hope. But I don't know if I can come back (to Maricopa Workforce Connections) because I don't have enough money to put gas in my car.' "

Unemployment benefits have helped many Arizonans keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and gas in their cars as they search for employment - money that goes directly to Arizona businesses.

The GOP-controlled Legislature's decision to end the benefits, after it was called into special session by Gov. Jan Brewer to address the issue, shows just how out of touch many of our politicians are.

Are unemployment benefits abused by some? Certainly. Do we have too many people content to live in a welfare state and take advantage of the taxpayers' dime? Surely.

But for Republicans to draw a line in the sand and put ideology over common sense during the worst economic recession of our time, that's simply inhumane, callous and heartless.

All that was needed was a one-word change to state law that caps unemployment benefits at 79 weeks, and would allow for an additional 20 weeks of coverage. It would not have cost Arizona a dime - the funding comes from the federal government.

And it would have kept a much-needed stream of $3.5 million per week in federal money coming into the Arizona economy.

For other states, the decision was a no-brainer. But as we've seen far too often, Arizona is not like other states.

Republicans adjourned the two-day special session without taking action.

In fact, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, was appalled that Brewer set up her fellow Republicans for blame by even calling the special session.

"The reason that we were here today is so that the governor could throw us under the bus,'' he said.

If that was indeed the case, good for her. That means there is at least one rational voice in the GOP.

Republicans would not sign off on the extension unless it included some kind of economic stimulus plan for creating jobs (that's Republican-speak for more tax breaks for businesses).

Those are completely separate issues, and Republicans had an entire session to address those.

To play politics and hold that over the governor's head while affecting thousands of people's lives, quite honestly, is unconscionable.

The unemployment rate in Arizona, while down slightly, is still at 9.3 percent.

At the Maricopa Workforce Connections office in Gilbert, 36,825 people (including follow-up visits) have come through the doors so far this year. At the West Valley location, that number is 74,704.

Following a massive recession, not all of those people are just trying to "cash in" on the government's dime.

"From what I'm hearing from people, those unemployment benefits mean that at least I can meet some of my obligations and have an opportunity to do a job search ... and can sustain enough so that I'm eating," Jones said.

"I don't think it means I'll be paying for health care, or going to the dentist, but I have the means to drive across town for an interview and at least do a job search."

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