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Petition For Unemployment Benefits Goes Viral, Garners 26,000 Signatures

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Issa Decker, a laid-off schoolteacher in Marin County, Calif., expected only a few people would sign her petition on Change.org demanding extra weeks of unemployment benefits from Congress.

"I thought it would get 30 or 40 friends' signatures," she said. Instead, as she put it, "It went viral."

Decker posted her petition online on March 12. Two months later, it has more than 26,000 signatures. It's the most popular user-generated petition Change.org has ever seen. It's partly a testament to the huge problem of unemployment, partly a testament to the extremely dedicated online community of unemployed people.

"Some petitions have gotten more signatures, but those are petitions we do more promotion on," said Change.org's Matthew Slutsky. Change.org is a for-profit site built on "rapid-response social action campaigns" every week. "In terms of touching a vein, this has really taken off."

The petition starts by chastising senators and representatives: "You should be ashamed of yourselves." It goes on to blame Congress for the recession's record unemployment and ends with the cri de coeur of the long-term unemployed: "ADD A TIER V."

"Tier V" would be a fifth tier of unemployment benefits. Congress has passed several extensions of unemployment benefits broken into four "tiers" of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which, combined with 46 weeks of benefits available in some states, can give the unemployed up to 99 weeks of benefits.

During a period of recession when "structural unemployment" has permanently eliminated jobs, plenty of people -- people like Issa Decker -- still can't find work after 99 weeks.

This month, after it's done with Wall Street reform, Congress will take up a tax extenders bill that will include a measure reauthorizing Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the rest of the year. It seems unlikely that Democrats will use this bill to give extra help to the "99ers." Some senators have vowed to fight for a Tier V, but Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said he thinks "99 weeks is sufficient." It's Baucus whose committee has jurisdiction over unemployment benefits, and Baucus who is currently negotiating with the House over how to pay for the re-authorization of the existing benefits.

Decker told HuffPost she plans to drop her petition on Washington next week, possibly on Tuesday. She's currently searching for a petition signee in the Washington area who can get it printed and delivered to the Hill. She said she hasn't decided whose office will receive it.

"I wish I could be there but I can't afford the airfare," she said.