Kicking sand in the face of Arizona's down and out
When Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce glibly opened Monday's reconvened special session by explaining away his notable absence Friday with his day-at-the-beach soliloquy, it was apparent this day – like any other day – would be anything but for Arizona's unemployed.
"It was nice to be at the beach and think of you all being here. It was a fine day," Pierce said of his Pacific Ocean retreat.
The Prescott Republican then immediately motioned to end the special session, which had been called by Gov. Jan Brewer to extend unemployment benefits for those who've been out of work for more than 1½ years.
In essence Pierce got his wish, with the Senate and House soon adjourning without taking action in what was largely believed to be a mere technical matter.
The message: Arizona's unemployed can go pound sand.
The extension wouldn't have cost Arizona a dime, with the federal government picking up the tab. But it would have meant continuance on average $216 a week for an unemployed person at the end of their eligibility.
They could use the benefit to help pay the rent or mortgage, buy some groceries, keep the phone turned on or put some gas in the car for their continued job search. In other words, the basics for survival in these hard times.
Instead, 15,000 Arizonans (who have paid into the unemployment insurance system while working) will get their last unemployment check this week. And an additional 30,000 Arizonans will be lopped off in coming months.
State lawmakers only had to change a few words in the law that caps unemployment at 79 weeks, allowing for an additional 20 weeks of coverage. It's worth noting again that it would have cost Arizona nothing, with the federal government covering the extended cost.
But for reasons ranging from feeling slighted by the governor for being called into special session on short notice to not wanting unemployed Arizonans to mistake their unemployment as a permanent beach vacation, Republican leadership and members adjourned without doing anything – except maybe kick sand in the faces of those already down.
Still, lawmakers will be paid their per diem for a job not done, which for out-of-county legislators amounts to $240 – more than one week of unemployment insurance.
Arizona's unemployment officially stands at 9.3 percent. The number is much higher, since some have dropped off the unemployment rolls or never applied.
Meanwhile, Arizona's employment outlook remains one of the weakest in the nation, according to a Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released Tuesday.
The reality is that the vast majority of unemployed are looking for jobs where there are none; they are not sitting at home waiting to "cash in" on the nation's second-lowest unemployment benefits.
The truth is thousands are holding on by a thread – the very thread that was callously cut by legislators on Monday.
Creating more suffering for the unemployed will not create more jobs, merely more homeless and more strain on support systems already pushed beyond the limit.
Should the governor call another special session to deal with this public-policy crisis, which can easily and painlessly be solved at no Arizona expense, the Legislature should do its job. Those without a job deserve no less.
Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.
The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.