Lawmakers plead for jobless benefits extension for locals

Six months ago, Will Scott got his last unemployment check after 99 weeks — the maximum amount of time someone can draw the benefits.

Since then, he lost his house and eats in soup kitchens in between looking for jobs and working the “maze” of social services.

“I’m just going from sofa to sofa and when that doesn’t work out I sleep in the back of my truck,” Scott said as he left the unemployment office on Turk Street, where he went to browse the Internet for jobs. “It’s an emotionally trying time.”

Unless Congress acts in the next two weeks, more than 2 million Americans stand to lose their unemployment checks on Nov. 30 when those benefits are set to expire. House Republicans, who are worried about more deficit spending, blocked a bill last week that would extend unemployment benefits.

In San Francisco, unemployment has hovered around 10 percent for the last year despite ongoing efforts by local lawmakers to create new jobs and stimulate the economy with incentives for new construction.

But a stubbornly high jobless rate cannot be ignored even by Republicans, said Jim Ross, a local political consultant. President Barack Obama will have to be more strategic about negotiating across the aisle if he wants to ensure unemployment benefits are offered a little longer.

Local labor unions have launched a full-fledged campaign, making cold calls to representatives at the nation’s capital, pleading with them to pass an extension. The construction industry has taken the hardest blow locally, peaking at 40 percent of builders still out of work, said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council.

“There are lots and lots of people out of work and to think that those people should be denied their unemployment is unconscionable,” Paulson said.

San Francisco officials are doing what they can. In October, The City lost millions of dollars in stimulus funding that was supporting more than 4,000 private and public-sector jobs. Mayor Gavin Newsom shifted local money around to stave off as many layoffs as possible, but has only been able to secure jobs for 273 of those workers, said Trent Rhorer, director of the Human Services Agency.

Economists have argued that unemployment is the catalyst for recovery; unemployment suppresses consumer spending.

“It’s not a recession, it’s a depression,” said Jim Lazarus, vice president for public policy with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “It won’t help the buying power of Californians if those who are maxed out lose their unemployment benefits.”

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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