Oklahomans Affected by Unemployment Deadline, Blocked Bill
By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
STROUD, Oklahoma -- After a partisan political battle, Congress went on recess last week allowing extended unemployment benefits to expire. It's a political battle with real life consequences and an Oklahoma Senator is in the middle of it all.
Janet Barrett is a wife and mother of three teenagers in Stroud. She and her husband have been unemployed since an oil rig accident nearly took her husband's life. He was badly burned when the rig exploded. His cousin was killed. Janet quit her job to take care of her husband.
The explosion also burned the company Barrett worked for. Janet said the company had invested everything in that rig.
"They had nothing left, so he had no job," Barrett said.
The Barrett's began collecting unemployment benefits in November of 2008. After 15 months they're still jobless and their unemployment benefits have run out.
"There's no jobs. Just blame it on there's not no jobs right now," Barrett said.
It's been two months since the Barrett's received their last unemployment check. They've been getting by on cash from odd jobs. They scrap metal when they can find it. But right now the gas is turned off at their house and they expect the electric will be shut off any day now.
"It's not easy... at all," Barrett said.
Thousands of Americans like the Barretts are fighting for more unemployment extensions. Barrett said she has joined several Web sites and online forums, hoping to have her voice heard. But just when she felt she was getting somewhere, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn blocked a bill that would have extended unemployment and Cobra benefits.
Coburn wants Congress to extend the benefits, but he wants them paid for with unused stimulus money and not money that adds to the deficit.
"To steal from your children and your grandchildren with a wink and a nod, saying there's no consequences to us borrowing against your future is immoral," Coburn said on the Senate floor.
After Coburn blocked the bill, Congress went on a two-week recess with no resolution. Barrett said this is not the time for Coburn to play politics.
"So he cares about his kids, but what about everybody else's? My kids are suffering because they're going without too... and that's the way it is," said Barrett as she fought back tears.
Coburn said he wanted to stay on Capitol Hill and work on the unemployment issue, but Democrats voted to leave.
According to a statement from Coburn's office, "Dr. Coburn and every Senate Republican voted to stay in session and work through this issue. Forty-nine Senate Democrats voted to go on vacation while four voted to stay."
Congressional leaders promised to pick the issue back up when they get back from recess. However, the deadline to file for an unemployment extension will arrive first, on April 5.
The Oklahoma unemployment office estimates that every week Congress doesn't extend benefits, more than 2,700 Oklahomans exhaust their benefits. That's $600 million worth of benefits that will not go into Oklahoma's economy.