Unemployed people in Arizona and Pennsylvania are watching helplessly as lawmakers in each state fight over measures to restore extended unemployment insurance for tens of thousands of people whose checks stopped this week.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called a special session of the state legislature on Friday, but lawmakers argued without actually voting on Brewer's bill to save the benefits. They'll take the debate up again on Monday afternoon.
[UPDATE 6:45 PM: Lawmakers closed the special session without reinstating the benefits. "Everyone wanted to make this fix -- the governor wanted this, Democrats wanted this and Arizonans wanted it to help the unemployed during this worldwide recession, not hold them hostage to partisan politics," said Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley (D) in a statement. "Everyone but Republicans, who made a conscious decision to cut off $3.5 million per week coming into our state’s economy. It is absolutely outrageous and it’s time to hold Republicans accountable."]
"Republicans failed to act," said Sarah Muench, spokeswoman for Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Some Republicans in Arizona have said they don't want to coddle the unemployed with federal deficit spending even if it doesn't affect the state's budget. Brewer said Republicans should not put the federal budget deficit ahead of their jobless constituents.
"I understand that some legislators have concerns about the extension of unemployment aid," she said. "They worry about the federal deficit. So do I. But you don't balance the federal budget by turning your back on Arizonans in their time of need. That's not principled fiscal conservatism. It's just cruel. And we are better than this."
Paul Boyer, spokesman for House Republicans, told HuffPost the House didn't vote on the bill Friday because it wouldn't have passed, thanks partly to missing lawmakers.
"The votes just weren't there," Boyer said. "Part of the problem is there are a lot of members that aren't here."
Brewer said in a statement that a minor change in state law will preserve benefits for 45,000 through the rest of the year, adding $3.5 million per week to the local economy. Arizona and Pennsylvania became ineligible for the federal Extended Benefits program because it requires a state's unemployment rate to be 110 percent of what it was in either of the two previous years. Since rates have fallen slightly, Congress said states could change their laws to look back an additional year to remain eligible for the program. So far nearly 30 states have done so.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers are also debating a bill this week that would preserve Extended Benefits. The program provides the final 20 weeks of checks for jobseekers who exhaust 26 weeks of initial state benefits and up to 53 weeks of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation. More than 100,000 Pennsylvanians could miss out on benefits by the end of the year.
HuffPost readers: Worried about losing out on Extended Benefits in Arizona or Pennsylvania? Tell us about it -- email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your phone number if you're willing to do an interview.
Both the Pennsylvania and Arizona bills would restore EB while at the same time tightening work-search requirements for people who receive the aid. Several states, including Missouri, Michigan, and Florida, have passed laws to preserve Extended Benefits while simultaneously permanently slashing state benefits. The federal programs will expire at the end of the year unless Congress reauthorizes them again, so workers in those states could be left with only reduced state benefits starting in January.
Gail Turley of Mesa, Ariz. said that when she checked her bank account on Monday, she didn't find the $157 weekly payment she'd been receiving most weeks since losing her job doing customer service for a bank in 2009. She said she's worked a few temp jobs since then, but the job search has been dismal.
"Being able to do it online allows you to apply for a lot more jobs rather than going to them one at a time but it's so impersonal, it's hard to even get in contact with anybody," Turley, 49, told HuffPost. She's been following the debate in the legislature closely and blogging about it for the Examiner.
Turley said she'd have 11 or 12 weeks of Extended Benefits left if the program hadn't lapsed.
"It is very frustrating," she said.
UPDATE 6/16/11: Turley said she received the money on Wednesday after all, and that it had been delayed by a computer glitch, not the legislature. After this week there will be no more deposits.