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EDITORIAL: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

2/12/2014, 3 p.m.

Last December, Congress allowed long-term unemployment benefits to expire, leaving about 1.7 million people without the safety net they need as they search for a job.

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats have tried without success to get Senate Republicans to agree to any plan that would restore the benefits. Last Thursday, Republicans blocked the measure even though Democrats reluctantly agreed to an extension limit of three months.

Even if the Senate had passed the bill, it’s unlikely House Republicans would have done the same.

When we read about 1.7 million Americans, it’s easy to overlook the reality that these are human beings with hopes, dreams and aspirations, people who want nothing more than to have a means to take care of themselves and their families, but who are being washed away like flotsam and jetsam by the effects of a stubborn economic recovery.

Lest we forget, the universe of people affected by the cutoff also includes about 2.3 million spouses, children and other family members of the affected recipients. In their paltry defense, Republican leaders like Sen. Rand Paul, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and others continue to argue that cutting these benefits are good for the recipients because losing the safety net will encourage them to find jobs.

It’s easy to be so cavalier when you pick up a $174,000 to $224,000 paycheck every year, when you have gold-plated health insurance coverage not afforded to rank-and-file Americans and you also enjoy a raft of other creature comforts. Maybe some of these guys need to sleep on a heated grate in sub-zero degree weather, miss a few meals and have to figure out how to find money to take care of essentials.

It’s maddening that these legislators are comfortable putting their own personal agendas and misguided policies ahead of the individual concerns of several million vulnerable individuals. But there’s little voters can do until the mid-term election roll around. Unless they clog the streets with protest and tie up Congressional phone lines.

Food pantries, homeless shelters, local governments and non-profits are struggling under the weight of those in need. And there appears to be no end in sight. The unemployed are toughening it out but there have been notable casualties with some people taking their lives, marriages falling apart and families disintegrating. It is unconscionable that those in a position to help would turn their backs but that is the type of social environment in which we live.

It is an environment where the strong, wealthy, more well off portions of this country have embraced a type of social Darwinism that leaves the unprotected to fend for themselves.

One unemployed Maryland resident, who although she’s been out of work since last June, opened a food pantry in Suitland, Md. The mother of a college age daughter said she is saddened by the increasing number of individuals and families who seek help from her. People are hungry, others are angry, often because they have been thrown into a cauldron of problems over which they have no control. She cited her personal experience as an example: she had her first job at 12, worked for 17 years in the federal government and spent six years in the private sector.

She takes umbrage with politicians and conservative pundits who claim that she and people in her position are lazy. All she wants, she explained, is an opportunity to find and hold a job to pay her bills, keep a roof over her head and take care of herself and her family.

Are the men and women elected to represent the people’s interests listening?