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Publication:The New York Sun; Date:Dec 26, 2002; Section:Business; Page:9

Jobless Benefits Extension Takes Center-Stage as Deadline Nears
By JULIA LEVY Staff Reporter of the Sun

Thousands of New Yorkers may face an end to unemployment benefits on Saturday as lawmakers in Washington debate whether to add yet another extension to the federally funded jobless program that cuts unemployment checks.

An estimated 2.8 million people have already benefited from an extension the Republican-led Congress passed back in March. On December 14, President Bush called for a shorter additional extension. Republicans have called for an additional five weeks of benefits, Democrats want 13. The GOP plan would cost $1 billion while the Democratic alternative would cost $5 billion in 2003.

Advocates for the shorter extension point to the fact that the economic growth is picking up speed and, as a result, a burst of job creation will likely ensue.

The economy rebounded to a 4% annual rate of growth in the third quarter, a pace more than three times as fast as in the second quarter. Democrats, for their part, have focused on the gloomier economy numbers. Last month, for the first time since 1991, for example, the median household income dropped. It fell by 2.2%.

According to the Center Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group in Washington, more than 84,000 New Yorkers have already exhausted their regular and extended benefits without having landed a new job. The city hasn’t released its own figures tracking New Yorkers out of benefits.

The New York Unemployment Project, a group of jobless New Yorkers agitating for extended benefits, claims thousands more jobless New Yorkers are scheduled to lose their benefits on December 28. Last month, the state Labor Department reported that unemployment in New York City had topped 8%, up from 7.8% a month earlier.

This week, some of the city’s jobless protestors descended on City Hall and set their political agenda to seasonal music. "Many bills, many bills, are piling up each day," the more than 50 singers howled to the tune of Jingle Bells. "Without unemployment checks we have no way to pay!"

The people who gathered across the street from City Hall — one of whom wore a Grinch mask and a Santa Claus suit — blamed Mr. Bush and the Congress for their inability to find jobs or get money while they continue to search.

They could not provide details, however, on exactly how the president and Congress were responsible for their unemployment. Instead they chanted generalities and platitudes.

"Congress stole our holiday," they chanted tunelessly. "They took our benefits away."

Connie Curtis, a licensed New York City Tour guide, was typical of the rally’s attendees. Since she stopped getting unemployment

checks in June, she’s been struggling "on a daily basis to survive." She called on leaders in Washington to exercise some "holiday spirit" and "give us our holidays back" by extending benefits to all unemployed Americans.

Another protestor, Joe Bergmann, lost his job as a creative director at a downtown advertising agency in October 2001. Mr. Bergmann says his inability to find work means that the job market must be a tough one.

With 15 years of experience in the field and never had trouble finding a job, he said. His benefits ran out in July.

The national trend suggests the worst is over. Initial unemployment claims appear to be falling from their peak of 492,000 which they hit last March.

AP TICK TOCK Benefits to run out.


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