By Mark David Blum, Esq.
The eight hundred billion dollar Obama stimulus package has its detractors. It is ironic that Republicans oppose it do so on grounds that it is not fiscally responsible. Americans in general are not yet sure how to react or agree on whether the stimulus package was a good idea or not. We still have a bad taste in our mouths coming off of eight years of President Bush and his legacy of a ten trillion dollar national debt. It is a delicate balancing act to respond to the woes and demands of the shambles of our economy. Many, including the Republican opposition claim that over-spending will only enhance and escalate the economic decline we are experiencing.
One governor has what he thinks is a solution to the problem. Rick Perry, governor of Texas has gone on the record to declare he will not accept stimulus funds. Well not exactly as he is only declining a portion of the funds. In rejecting seventeen billion stimulus dollars, Governor Perry has declared he will not accept stimulus funds that are earmarked to go to unemployment benefits. His argument is that the funding would, “require a change in the state's definition of unemployment, expanding coverage to more people and placing more of the state's tax burden on employers.”
Governor Perry opines that there will come a time when federal funding for the unemployed will run out and it will be businesses in the State that have to step up and continue funding the unemployed. I could not agree more that business does not need to be saddled with more taxes and fees.
At the same time, however, we are talking about human beings who are without an income. The unemployed are by definition already a drain on State tax coiffeurs. To deny the neediest amongst us unemployment benefits at a time when people are most desperate is cruel and sadistic. Refusing to deliver benefits to the unemployed because of a policy and political dispute holds hostage tens of thousands of Americans.
Unemployment benefits serve a valid and important purpose in our society. Money taken by force of government from paychecks is deemed to be insurance in the event of unemployment. The unemployed are not seeking welfare but rather a payout on benefits for which they have contributed and are entitled. In the current economy, a part of which is on Governor Perry’s watch, there are apparently unemployed people who are either not getting benefits or benefits have run out.
Governor Perry is putting politics and partisanship above the needs of his own citizens. He may disagree with the massive spending contained within the stimulus package. Also, he may disagree sharply with the politics of our current President. But it is flatly wrong to use his own citizens as pawns in a game of chicken being played with the White House. The unemployed are by definition, without work and thus without any means of income. Their plight cannot be ignored and by doing so, Governor Perry has shown Texas as having no heart for its own citizens.
The governor’s claims about the impact of the stimulus package ignore the truth already in his own State. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the State is going to run out of money anyway and will soon be unable to meet the demand for unemployment benefits. At least with the Federal stimulus funds, Texas will be able to provide for its unemployed for longer than its current ability. Also the federal funding will reach out and provide for people apparently ignored by the current Texas system; namely, low wage earners and part-time employees like single mothers, college students and senior citizens. These folks are just as entitled to coverage as are high wage earners as over the years, both have had taxes taken from their paychecks specifically for unemployment insurance. Texas apparently discriminates against the poor by denying them benefits while paying benefits to the higher wage earners. What leaders forget is that both the low wage earner and the high wage earner are now on unemployment and neither is a wage earner. To discriminate against one class of persons based on past performance is shameful as everybody unemployed should be covered by unemployment insurance.
We provide by mandate unemployment insurance because we want to assure a stream of income in the event of temporary unemployment. For this reason alone, workers are compelled by law to dislodge a portion of their earnings to the government. Implicitly with that payroll deduction goes a promise that if the worker loses a job, there will be income available until replacement employment becomes available.
It is not the fault of the worker or the unemployed that our economy and job base is a mess. Whether they flipped burgers at McDonalds or flipped switches at the Johnson Space Center, being now without a job puts the unemployed in the same predicament. We can look to Governor Perry and his Republican counterparts across the nation and easily affix blame for our current economic woes directly on them. After all, Republicans ran the country for the past eight years and it was on their watch that the economy tanked.
Regardless of who is to blame and what may be the cause, our nation has to provide for the weakest amongst us. People need to eat, pay rent, and have utilities if there is ever a hope they will be able to again function as taxpaying citizens. To cut people from their benefits and leave them by the roadside to starve to death is not who we are as a people. Though we grumble and groan at the tax load necessary to provide for those without, the alternative is far more worse.
Hungry people, people without jobs or an income are going to be a larger drain on treasuries than paying out unemployment benefits. They will end up on welfare, on public assistance, on Medicare and Medicaid, or worse. To eat, some may turn to crime or to violence against fellow citizens. We may find them homeless and sleeping in our yards and garages.
America has promised a safety net called unemployment insurance. Everybody pays into it and everybody is entitled to reap the benefits should the situation arise. Nobody prefers to be on unemployment versus having a higher paying more productive income stream. Without the help of unemployment, at least in Texas, more and more Americans are going to be worse off than they should be. They can thank Governor Perry and his ideology for the hunger pangs and pain of homelessness and worse.
It seems to me that if Governor Perry is so seriously concerned about the drain the unemployed will have on society, then the Governor should get his act together and create jobs in his State. The best cure for unemployment is having a job. It is cruel beyond calculation to deny unemployment benefits and hold hostage a desperate population because of politics.