08/31/2010 01:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

99er Goes To Washington: Unemployed Activist Lobbies In Person For More Benefits

Connie Kaplan took a bus from New York City to Washington, D.C. to do some grassroots lobbying for extra weeks of jobless aid. Kaplan is a "99er" -- a person who has exhausted all available weeks of unemployment benefits and still hasn't found a job -- and she wants politicians to acknowledge that the million-plus people in her situation need help.

On Tuesday, Kaplan delivered a letter supporting a bill to provide 20 additional weeks of jobless aid for people living in states with unemployment above 7.5 percent. She brought three copies: one for the White House, one each for the Republican and Democratic national committees.

"It shows my concerted effort," said Kaplan, 52, of her Washington visit. "I want them to know I hand-delivered these letters."

It's lobbying at its most grassroots: So grassroots, in fact, that Kaplan showed up outside the White House and didn't really know what to do with her letter. A police officer advised her that any mail to people in the White House has to go through the Post Office.

"We have been humiliated by some politicians as lazy drug addicts who live on handouts from our government," Kaplan's letter says. It's true: Several members of Congress believe extended benefits discourage the jobless from seeking work, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation to require drug testing of benefits recipients.

Kaplan herself was singled out by Fox News host Glenn Beck for joining other 99ers at a New York protest. "Connie, here's an idea," Beck said on his show last week. "Don't spend your remaining money on travel to get to a protest. Go out and get a job. You may not want the job. Work at McDonald's. Work two jobs."

Kaplan told HuffPost she had worked two jobs -- before she lost 'em, that is. She said a friend in D.C. paid her $40 bus fare and that she is helping that person recover from hip surgery.

Congress has given the unemployed extra weeks of benefits as a matter of routine during every recession since the 1950s, but never before have as many as 99 weeks been made available. Democrats struggled to overcome GOP filibusters three times this year just to reauthorize the 99 weeks (which are not available in every state). But there's not much appetite for providing additional weeks.

"The government's turned its back," said Kaplan, annoyed that President Obama has pushed Congress to preserve existing unemployment benefits but has not advocated additional weeks of benefits. "He hasn't said one word."