WASHINGTON — Democrats lost a battle in Washington on Thursday but vowed to keep fighting for an extension of benefits for workers unemployed longer than 26 weeks.
The federal emergency unemployment benefits program expires Dec. 28 and nearly 40,000 Ohioans and 43,000 long-term unemployed in Michigan are set to lose these jobless benefits. Congress passed a budget deal on Thursday that does not include a provision to pay for additional emergency unemployment benefits.
Although several Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing for action this year to fund an extension, it's unlikely since lawmakers are scheduled to head home today for the holiday season.
Curtis Houston, 42, is one of the nearly 2,400 people in Lucas County who will no longer be eligible to receive the federal emergency employment assistance. Mr. Houston was laid off from his job at PTI Quality Containment Solutions about eight months ago and has exhausted his Ohio jobless benefits.
The first 26 weeks in Ohio, known as state benefits, are funded by taxing employers. However, Ohioans were eligible for a maximum of 63 weeks of benefits, 37 of which were paid for by federal funding.
Mr. Houston, who received his last Ohio weekly benefit check of $123 around Thanksgiving, will have to rely solely on part-time wages he earns at a janitorial company, Toledo Building Services, to help support his family.
“We clean up the Huntington Center after big events and hockey games,” he said. “In the past two weeks I might have worked 15 hours.”
Mr. Houston lives with his girlfriend and their two children in Toledo. His girlfriend works but he said the family is struggling and that he recently turned to local churches for food assistance.
“Me, myself, I like to work and I don’t think unemployment is something to really live off. It’s just something to help you until you can do better, but yes, I believe it’s still necessary for people in my shape,” he said.
Mr. Houston initially thought he would be called back to work at PTI, a subcontractor for General Motors. He made $8.50 an hour inspecting parts that came in from numerous suppliers before those parts were shipped next door to the Powertrain transmission plant on Alexis Road.
Those hopes were dashed, however, in August when the company shut down for good. In the meantime, he has been attending workshops at The Source, trying to improve his resume, and looking for a full-time job.
“There is still a large number of unemployed people. If they got programs that’s gonna help people get back into the work force and be able to take care of their family, then that’s different. I think they are starting to have programs to help people get back in the workforce but like Obama said, we also have to create our own businesses and start giving services to the public,” Mr. Houston said.
U.S. Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Sander Levin (D., Mich.) were part of a group of House Democrats who made a last-ditch effort to get a three-month extension of the unemployment benefits in the budget package.
Miss Kaptur said the unemployment rate in half of the 88 counties in Ohio is above the national average, which is currently 7 percent.
“We have 8 percent unemployment in Lucas County and 8.1 percent in Ottawa County. We are above the national average in four of the five counties I represent,” Miss Kaptur said.
With this many people still out of work, Congress should have found a way to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits for at least another three months in this budget deal, she said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) also supported extending the emergency federal unemployment benefit program.
“We must do everything we can to support those who are still struggling following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Mr. Brown said in a written statement. “These are hardworking Americans — many with children — who have fallen on tough times.”
Several Republican members of Congress expressed concern over the measure and argued that the federal government should focus its efforts and resources toward getting people employed.
“My concern is the number of Ohioans who have lost their jobs and how to get them back to work. I’m willing to consider any credible proposal the President or Democrats in the Senate put forth to extend unemployment benefits, so long as those benefits address job creation and are paid for so we don’t add to our nation’s burdensome debt,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) in a written statement.