Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has called a special session of the state's legislature so lawmakers can prevent thousands of Arizonans from missing out on federally-funded unemployment insurance.
"Extending benefits for the unemployed is the right thing to do both for our local economy and for Arizona families," said Brewer in a Wednesday statement. "For our economy, these federal dollars represent an immediate cash infusion of nearly $3.5 million a week as recipients spend on necessities like food, rent and clothing. For as many as 45,000 Arizonans in need, these federal dollars may mean the difference between making the rent and living on the streets."
About 15,000 people in Arizona currently receive checks from the federal government's Extended Benefits program, which kicks in for jobseekers who use up 26 weeks of state benefits and 53 weeks of benefits from another federal program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The Extended Benefits program only triggers in states that have seen unemployment rates rise for at least two years.
The jobless rate in Arizona is 9.3 percent, down from 10.1 percent this time last year.
In December, Congress knew that many states with stubbornly high unemployment had not seen their rates rise in the past two years. So when federal lawmakers reauthorized the unemployment programs through 2011, they said states could change their laws to remain eligible for Extended Benefits if the local unemployment rate was higher than it was three years ago, instead of just two. Nearly 30 states have made the change.
Assistant Minority Leader Steve Farley (D) told HuffPost Brewer's bill, which reauthorizes the benefits and also tightens work-search requirements, could see a vote in the state House of Representatives on Friday and in the state Senate on Monday, despite grumblings from Republicans.
"I think they're closing in on getting the votes," Farley said. "Why the heck would you not allow us to draw down federal money to come into our state to help people who are in need right now?"
Worker advocates and lawmakers have known for months that Arizona would lose Extended Benefits in June. In fact, before the Arizona State Legislature adjourned for the year in April, Democrats in the lower chamber tried to move legislation to keep the checks flowing, as they pointed out in a Wednesday evening statement.
"Unfortunately, a special session wasn't necessary to make this fix," House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said. "We notified Gov. Brewer and Republicans about this back in April and urged them to make the one-word fix while we were on the House floor in the middle of the night."
At the time, state Rep. Anna Tovar (D) lamented that Republicans devoted some the waning hours of the session to naming the Colt Action Army Revolver the official state firearm.
"Another day, another waste of taxpayers' time and money at the state capitol," Tovar said in an April statement. "My family owns guns, and I'm embarrassed that state government chose to spend hours on a state gun -- even brought it back on reconsideration after it was defeated -- instead of changing one word in statute to ensure 20,000 Arizonans' jobless aid isn’t cut off during tough times. This is absolutely ridiculous and offensive, and it's even more humiliating that the weapon they chose isn't even manufactured in Arizona."
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