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Jobless Hope for More Benefits / Congress mulling extension
Newsday; Long Island, N.Y.; Jun 14, 2002; Patricia Kitchen. STAFF WRITER;

(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2002)

Two single parents, both scrimping to make ends meet, both embarrassed to be asking for help, are watching the mailbox these days for their final unemployment insurance checks.

"I am resourceful and a fighter," said Catherine Hinds of Uniondale. "But let's see how creative I am in coming up with the mortgage payment in two weeks."

"It's not easy. It's devastating," said Felix Batista, before going out to ask his Corona neighbors to sign a petition in support of legislation that would extend the benefits. If it's not passed, he may lose his apartment and, along with his 13-year-old daughter, be forced to move in with one of his sisters.

They are just two of an estimated 60,000 people in the metropolitan area whose benefits will run out this summer unless legislation is passed and signed, authorizing another extension, said Jonathan Rosen, director of the New York Unemployment Project, a nonprofit group. In March, Congress authorized a 13-week extension for those who had exhausted their six months of regular state-paid benefits.

"We're facing a profound social crisis in New York," Rosen said, citing worries about a rise in welfare applications, evictions and homelessness if the legislation isn't passed by June 20, when the Legislature is to adjourn.

Businesses see it differently. "The last thing New York workers need is a step to make it more costly and less likely for employers to add jobs," said Matthew Maguire, spokesman for the Business Council of New York State, an employer group. Businesses were assessed an increase in unemployment insurance taxes in January and a state-funded extension could add to that.

The legislation appears likely to pass the Assembly but could face problems in the Senate, lawmakers said.

Already in debt to friends and family, Batista, a native of the Dominican Republic who speaks little English, said, "I hope something good happens."

A banquet set-up worker at Windows on the World, he regularly left his home at 4 a.m. to be on the job by 6:30, but had taken Sept. 11 off. Since then he has been looking for work to replace his $600 to $700 weekly income, which has been partially offset by the $400 unemployment checks due to run out next week.

Hinds, laid off last spring from a payroll management job in Manhattan, said that she has been reluctant to head into the city since the terror attacks and that payroll jobs on Long Island pay less than half of her former $70,000 salary.

To help make ends meet, she said she has become a "coupon queen," takes advantage of free programs and services at the public library and has sought help from the Long Island Council of Churches.

She has a sales representative job lined up, but it doesn't start until late July. If benefits aren't extended, she'll use credit cards and hope to work out an arrangement with her mortgage company. "I hope they do pass it," she said. "The need is there."