Unemployed march for benefits extension

By JENNIFER MEHIGAN   |   May 14, 2003 at 5:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) -- Protesters backed by the AFL-CIO marched up Constitution Avenue Wednesday from the Department of Labor to the Capitol lawn to urge Congress to extend emergency unemployment benefits.

Some 200 unemployed from Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland were joined by a trio of Democratic congressmen under sunny skies at the Robert A. Taft Memorial to urge Congress to act before benefits expire May 31. Congress recesses for Memorial Day on May 26.

Protesters held signs and chanted: "Who Needs a Pink Slip? George Bush," and "Bush and Chao, Help Us Now." Elaine Chao is the secretary of the Labor Department.

Pamela Collett, a former American Airlines flight attendant, told the crowd how selected retired AA executives were receiving pensions of $1 million a month while laid-off workers like herself were getting stock options checks of $7.63.

"We're not looking for a handout," Collett said, "We're looking for a helping hand."

According to the AFL-CIO, the benefits of 4 million unemployed people will run out in the next few months. After May 31, every week 80,000 people will lose their benefits.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. the House Democratic leader, told the crowd: "Jobs with justice are what the American people need, American people want, American people demand. Let's put Americans back to work." Her speech ended with the crowd chanting, "Lay Off Bush."

Reps. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., also gave words of support to the crowd.

About 85 people came from New York, sponsored by Members of Community Voices Heard.

Like Sindy Rivera and Aida Whitmore, many of the people hardest hit are single mothers on welfare.

Rivera, 27, is a college student, a mother of a young son, and a welfare recipient.

"We need to support this society from bottom to top, not top to top," she said. "We suffer from every little decision the government makes. I want to contribute to this society, but I also have to survive and feed my child. People should be able to fulfill their dreams. This is America."

Whitmore is 35 and in a GED program to get her high school diploma. With two daughters and a son it has been hard for her to continue her education while keeping a job. "If we can't be taught, our children can't be taught. We need our families to be a somebody themselves." If she could speak with a member of Congress, Whitmore said she would tell them: "Don't work against us, work with us."

Rivera said she "would tell them: Have a good look at the government and see what they're doing to the children of the future. I'd tell them to put money in programs. We want to be able to live, work, support our families."

"The tax cuts are going to impact schools, public parks, programs -- all things that are important for low income families to survive," Rivera said.

"Without them, we have nothing," Whitmore added.

"This round of tax cuts is voodoo economics squared, cubed, some craziness," said John Briscoe, director of development at the National Council of the Churches of Christ. He called Bush's tax-cut plan "an outrage."

"Here we have an administration that thinks the market will take care of everything. We are the dominant military power of our era. In the long run that's an ephemeral and shallow way of measuring one's country. Greatness lies in the mix," Briscoe said.

"We want this for our kids," said Jill Smith, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. Smith has four grown children and five grandchildren. "I'm here for the people who couldn't be here. They're (Congress) not helping people by cutting all the benefits," she said.

Melissa Secore, 21, a communications major at Buffalo State University and an intern at a Washington non-profit, marched with three other young interns. Each holding flyers in pink symbolizing a layoff slip for Bush.

Secore will graduate next year and is afraid of not being able to find a job when school ends. "Some of my friends have had a hard time finding work," Secore said. "I'm definitely concerned for college students."

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