Politics & Government

21,000 unemployed Kentuckians expected to lose benefits this week

Brit Plumlee spoke to a reporter at the  Office for Employment and Training in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday Nov. 30, 2010.
Brit Plumlee spoke to a reporter at the Office for Employment and Training in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday Nov. 30, 2010.

With Christmas less than a month away, more than 21,000 Kentuckians are expected to lose their unemployment benefits this week after Congress did not act Tuesday to extend emergency benefits, according to state officials.

And the number of affected Kentuckians will surpass 75,000 within the next eight weeks if Congress keeps the benefits extension cut, said Lanny Brannock, spokesman for the state Office of Employment and Training.

Frustration and some despair Tuesday flooded the Jobs Center, where Lexington's unemployed go to register for benefits and look for work. Quietly waiting among the many there, Latoya Collins, 27, said maybe Congress doesn't notice the working man.

"Look, they got jobs," Collins said.

She'll be talking to her family about moving in with them and looking for a job without money, which is harder than it sounds, she said. She hasn't been without a job since she was 15, she said.

It is the third time this year the nation's lawmakers let the emergency benefits expire, even though the nation's unemployment rate remains steady at 9.6 percent. In those cases, jobless workers got retroactive benefits once legislation was passed.

The benefit extensions granted over the past two years have given the nation's long-term jobless up to 73 weeks of financial help, depending on the state's jobless rate, beyond the usual 26-week benefit.

Nationwide, the number of people slated to lose benefits is estimated at 2 million.

Both U.S. senators from Kentucky, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, oppose the benefit extension, noting the extra spending would increase the national deficit. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles has supported the extension in the past but could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the unemployment office in Lexington, Jessica Hartman, 54, said she is nervous about possibly losing her benefits.

"I used to be middle-class," said Hartman, who has a master's degree from The College of William and Mary. "This is completely impersonal. If people are frightened, I get it."

Hartman lost her job as a non-profit manager in mid-June and hasn't worked since. She doesn't own a house anymore but lives with her son who just returned from Iraq.

Outside of the jobs office, Obadiah Floyd, 38, explained how he was laid off at his job as a maintenance engineer at Aramark almost a year and a half ago.

He said Congress "needs to stop worrying about their own issues and work together."

If not, what are people supposed to think, that they "don't give a damn?" he asked.

He said not having work "is not your fault but you feel like it is."

No, he's not going to his family or friends for help, he said, "because I've always been the one they came to for help."