News: Jobless tell Murray of struggles getting by

Jan 12 2012

From The Seattle Times:

Every morning James Henry, 41, gets up and heads to the union hall, hoping for work.

The Seattle-area construction worker is looking for a job to support his wife, Tammy; buy diapers for the couple's infant daughter, Samantha; and pay his mortgage. He has one week of unemployment benefits left until he needs to apply for an extension. In the meantime, foreclosure is looming.

"I'm a responsible adult. I pay my bills, you know?" Henry told Sen. Patty Murray at a Seattle home Wednesday morning. "But when it comes to a choice between being able to pay for day care so that I can go look for a job and making my mortgage payment, I'm not paying my mortgage payment, and that's just the way it is."

When the Democratic senator asked email subscribers to contact her with stories about unemployment, Natalie Simmons, who lives with her husband on the 5500 block of Wilson Avenue South in Seward Park, invited Murray to their home.

Murray was greeted Wednesday morning by a barking Jack Russell terrier, Bandit, in a neighborhood Simmons says she loves. It hasn't been left unscathed; her next-door neighbor has been unemployed for seven months, she said.

Simmons, 49, is employed part time as a teacher at South Seattle Community College. While she has seniority there now, she's had to apply for unemployment in the past, a reality faced by many of her co-workers.

Simmons was joined at her dining-room table by Murray and Henry, along with Sydnee Pardee, 30, a laborer; Laura Quintino, 42, an unemployed former preschool teacher who relies on unemployment to pay medical bills; and Marc Lampson, a lawyer and director of the Unemployment Law Project.

The Washington unemployment rate currently stands at 8.7 percent. Murray said extending the benefits through the end of 2012 is her top priority when she returns to Congress, but legislators are at odds over how to pay for it.

"One of the things Republicans want is for it to be paid for. I understand that," said Murray, who co-chaired the "super committee" which tried and failed in November to compromise on a solution to fix the deficit. "We want to tax people who are making more than a million dollars every year. So far they have said no, no and no."

Still, said Murray: "I'm an optimist."

Washington state House minority leader Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said passing the extension wasn't necessary to fixing the problem in Washington if state legislators act quickly.

"We gotta do something that promotes a solution, not more Band-Aids on a big cut," DeBolt said. "We don't want anybody to lose their home. No one wants that."

One solution, DeBolt said, would be to streamline the permitting process so construction projects could get started more quickly. It's part of the House Republicans' "Let's Get Washington Working Again" plan, he said.

But Henry and Pardee, the other construction worker meeting with Murray, said losing the benefits would be devastating.

"My mom, my kids, we'd all be homeless without it," said a teary-eyed Pardee, a mother of two who also takes care of her live-in, disabled mother. She said she wakes up every morning at 4:30 to check the job board at her local union hall.

On Wednesday, the board at the union hall had nothing for Pardee.

"If it were that easy, obviously we would be working," she said.

Lark Turner: 206-464-2761 or lturner@seattletimes.com.