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Stimulus Jobs Program's End 'Totally Unbelievable'

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Siobhan Kolar can't believe that thousands of jobs, including her own with an unemployment advocacy nonprofit called Chicago Jobs with Justice, are on the Senate's fiscal chopping block.

"They're completely not tuned in and not connected. They're totally out of touch with what's going on," said Kolar, 42, in an interview with Huffpost. Most of Kolar's $14 per hour salary comes from an Emergency Fund created to subsidize jobs through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (formerly known as welfare).

The Emergency Fund, a $5 billion product of the stimulus bill, created some 240,000 jobs in 37 states and is all set to expire on Thursday. The Senate has rejected several opportunities to extend the program for another year at a cost of $1.5 billion -- too much for deficit hawks to spare.

But jobs created by the Put Illinois to Work program have been granted a stay of execution: Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced Tuesday that he would extend the program in Illinois for an additional two months (though it was not immediately clear how the extension would be funded).

"The best way to make our economy stronger is to put people to work -- that is why we are temporarily continuing this successful program until Congress acts to extend the program," Quinn said in a statement. "We cannot afford to lose momentum as we continue our economic recovery. Quick action by Congress will keep thousands of people at work in Illinois and will continue to build on the progress we have already made."

In Illinois, the program has put an 26,000 people to work, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which estimated that the fund created more than 240,000 jobs nationwide. The program is even popular with some conservatives, such as Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, but since summer the Senate has gridlocked repeatedly over deficit spending. Despite Quinn's hopes, there's no indication that the Senate will take up the fund in December after it allows it to lapse as expected this week.

States have taken different approaches to the program, and in some places workers whose jobs will end on Friday will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. "Generally, when a state sets up a transitional jobs or subsidized employment program, the worker should be treated as a paid employee covered by minimum wage protections and state unemployment insurance law," said George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project. "However, some states have structured their programs as work experience or training with payments made through a third party and exempt from coverage under the state's unemployment insurance law."

Participants in the Put Illinois to Work program "will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits at the conclusion of the program," according to the program's website.

"It's totally unbelievable that 26,000 people won't be getting unemployment in Illinois and will be hitting the pantry line," said Kolar, who lives in Downers Grove, Ill. She said she worked at nonprofits for the past several years before losing her job in May. "My kids are 15, 14, 12, and 8. When my 14-year-old heard I was going to get laid off, he said, 'Oh, not again.'"

"It's awful," said Kolar's boss, Susan Hurley. "We're going lose an organizer -- but it's not really so much about the organizer as it is about the people we're able to help. We are currently organizing the unemployed. We have someone on-hand to help them navigate the sometimes complicated and frustrated system for unemployment compensation. The folks on unemployment are going to lose that. She'll go from helping the unemployed to being unemployed."

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