Issa Decker thought only friends and family would sign her online petition demanding Congress give additional weeks of unemployment benefits to the jobless. First it went viral and garnered more than 28,000 signatures. Now, thanks to a grassroots fundraising effort, it's headed to Congress.
"I'm kind of blown away," said Decker, a laid-off schoolteacher in California. "It's all being done officially now. It's being printed and bound and delivered."
Decker posted her petition on Change.org in March. Theresa Cahill, a writer for a site called WorldNewsVine, repeatedly wrote about the petition as it gained signatures, no doubt fueled by the extremely dedicated online community of jobless folks across the country.
Once the petition had more than 20,000 signatures, the question became: How do we get this thing to Washington? Decker herself couldn't afford the printing costs -- it's nearly 1,000 pages long -- much less the airfare. She sent emails to the folks who'd shared their signatures in hopes someone lived near the Capitol. It turned out to be pretty difficult to find an unemployed person who had the means and the nearness.
"I had one person who thought I meant Washington state," she said.
Then WorldNewsVine offered to help out by raising some money to cover the costs of hand-delivering the petition. "In terms of the fundraising itself," wrote Cahill in an email to HuffPost, "the goal of $1000 plus fees taken via Paypal were raised within approximately 48 hours. Some unable to donate, yet spreading the word. Others, with pennies left to their name, donating $1. Each were urged if they truly could not afford to donate to not donate. A few donated $100, $50, $25, with the majority at lesser levels. I personally started the fund off with $2 (my husband has been unemployed for over a year)."
Cahill said the site's chief editor, Robert Grone, left for Washington from Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday morning, for an appointment with staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Reid's office confirmed the meeting, but declined to comment on the petition. After it finishes Wall Street reform, most likely this week, the Senate will turn to a bill that contains, among other things, a reauthorization for the rest of the year for emergency unemployment provisions. The program in question, known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation, gives the unemployed 53 weeks of federally-funded benefits on top of the 26 weeks available in some states. The EUC is broken into four tiers.
Issa Decker and the people who signed her petition want a fifth tier. Though some senators have said they're favorable to giving the unemployed additional weeks of benefits, there's been no indication from either the House or the Senate that the upcoming bill will extend the lifeline for the long-term unemployed. That's what Decker is hoping to change.