Mangok Bol has returned to South Sudan to search for his nieces and nephew who were abducted by militants.
On Saturday, unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans will expire.
Congress has refused to approve an extension of the benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Democrats have said they’ll try to get an extension passed once Congress returns, but Republicans want something in exchange.
House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that any extension would require cuts elsewhere.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with NPR’s Tamara Keith about whether Republicans and Democrats will reach an compromise.
Jeremy Hobson also speaks with Tammie Heazlit, who is one of the 1.3 million Americans who’ll lose her unemployment benefits.
Heazlit works two part time jobs — one at a chiropractor’s office, and another at an outdoor store. She counted on the unemployment benefit to fill out the rest of her cost of living. Once the benefit ends, Heazlit isn’t sure what she’ll do.
“I actually have a degree in hydro-geology and environmental science, environmental planning — storm water is my specialty, so it would be nice if I could use my other degree,” she said. “I’ll either hopefully get another part-time job, or I don’t know, sell plasma.”
Some critics of unemployment benefits argue that the program discourages the unemployed to get a job. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is one of those critics.
“I would like to invite Sen. Rand Paul to live off of $320 a week, and work either not at all, or a couple part time jobs, which is what the majority of people have and see what it’s like,” Heazlit said. “When I sit in the unemployment office — and I was number 366 in line when I was there at 7 o’clock in the morning — every single person that is in that office has a legitimate story. There’s nobody who is sitting there that is slacking, and I’m sure there are slackers…but it is by far not the majority. These people are looking for jobs, these people are applying for jobs left and right.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. Tomorrow, 1.3 million people who have been relying on unemployment benefits will have to figure out what to do without them. These are people who have been out of work for at least six months and are relying on money from the federal government, not from states.
Congress failed to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed before leaving Washington for the holidays. Now Democrats say they're still trying to get an extension passed, but Republicans say any extension would require cuts elsewhere. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith is with us from Washington. Tamara, welcome.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Thank you.
HOBSON: So Democrats have been saying they want to extend these benefits, but are they willing to make those cuts to other programs that it sounds like Republicans would require for an extension?
KEITH: Well, they are sort of noncommittal on that. Right now they are clearing enjoying beating Republicans up over this. One liberal group is up with ads attacking Republicans for not extending these benefits, especially over the holidays. But also Democrats really do believe in this, and they say long-term unemployment is quite bad right now. There are still four million people who have been unemployed six months or longer.
So even though the overall unemployment rate is down, the situation for these folks is truly dire. But then when you ask them, well, would you be willing to find cuts to save that $25 billion that it'll cost to extend these benefits for a year, they're a little squishy. They say that in the past this has always been an emergency program that hasn't been paid for, though reading between the lines you get the sense that if pressed they would be open to modifying the program to begin phasing it out and also to finding savings elsewhere in the budget to pay for it.
HOBSON: Well, where would those savings come from?
KEITH: There's a lot of off-the-shelf savings that Congress seems to have been saving up, waiting for things like this; items like selling off unused federal buildings, things like that. Democrats talk about closing tax loopholes. Republicans obviously wouldn't go for that. They want real spending cuts but might be willing to settle for eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, things like that.
But there's one thing that might be pretty easy for them to agree on, and the dollar figure matches up pretty well. That's the farm bill. There are about $20 billion of savings in the farm bill that's being discussed right now. Those savings come from eliminating the direct payments program and also trimming food stamps.
And so it's possible that if they come to an agreement on the farm bill, that could very easily match up with an extension of unemployment benefits, and both things could possibly happen and be paid for.
HOBSON: And just so we know, the farm bill is not a done deal by any stretch right now, right? They've still got to figure that out?
KEITH: Well, they're still negotiating it, though the sense as negotiators were leaving town was that they were very, very close and possibly just weren't announcing it because if they announced it, it would be torn apart during the holiday season.
HOBSON: Well, what about those arguing against an extension of the unemployment benefits because there are people, I'm thinking of Senator Rand Paul, who's been quite vocal about the reasons not to extend these benefits for the long-term unemployed.
KEITH: Well, there are a lot of people, including some economists and a whole lot of Republicans, who believe that actually having these long-term benefits for such a long time has actually contributed to the long-term unemployment problem. They argue that people are holding out for higher-paying jobs because they have these unemployment benefits to help them make ends meet.
And they also argue that the unemployment rate overall is down and that this program already has gone on longer than in any past recession, like way longer. But those who support the extensions say that this recession was worse than anything we've seen since the Great Depression and that, you know, many unemployed people who I've spoken to say we are doing our best, we're trying hard, and, no, we wouldn't prefer unemployment benefits to a job.
HOBSON: And we're going to hear from one of those people, by the way, in just a moment, Tamara, but these negotiations could take a while, it sounds like. What are people supposed to do? I guess they just have to deal without having unemployment benefits starting tomorrow because it doesn't sound like there'd be a short-term fix, would there?
KEITH: There's talk of a short-term fix. I don't know what the political realities are for it. Democrats in the Senate and the House are pushing of the idea of a short-term, three-month extension while a longer-term extension is worked out. They don't want that three-month extension to be paid for, and that might make it difficult to get it through the House, where Speaker John Boehner, as you said, says any extension needs to be paid for.
One thing worth noting, though, is that it isn't just Democrats here. There are Republicans from states that have been especially hard hit, states like Nevada, who are on board with this, saying let's do an extension, this isn't a time to cut people off.
HOBSON: And of course now they've got to go back to their home districts and hear from constituents, or they're in their home districts.
KEITH: Exactly. They are in their home districts, and these stories are likely to get louder and louder in the waning week and a half they're back home because this is a great local public - great local human interest story. And newspapers around the country are going to be doing stories about people who lost their benefits over the holiday season.
HOBSON: NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
HOBSON: Well, that's the view from Washington. Now let's see how all this is playing out with the people who will be losing their benefits. Tammie Heazlit is one of them. She lost her job at the end of June. And she joins us from Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor. Tammie, what are you going to do after tomorrow?
TAMMIE HEAZLIT: Well, I'm already pretty frugal. I don't know. I mean, how do you play when you're earning $320 a week? You know, I'm one of the fortunate ones. I have two part-time jobs. Both of my part-time employers are fabulous. I feel very fortunate. I have a roof over my head, even though it leaks. There is a lot of people who are a lot worse off than I am.
HOBSON: So you have two part-time jobs, but you're still collecting unemployment benefits?
HEAZLIT: Yeah, to fill in the benefit, to make up to $320 a week.
HOBSON: And what are you doing in the part-time jobs? Is there any possibility that those could become fulltime jobs?
HEAZLIT: One of them is a massage therapy job. I'm working for a chiropractor. It's a wonderful office. I feel very fortunate to be working there. The other one is I work for an outdoor store in the camping department and sometimes in the apparel department. I actually have a degree in hydrogeology, environmental science, environmental planning. Storm water is my specialty.
So it would be nice if I could use my other degree, or I've also applied for a third part-time job with Oakland County, which would allow me to continue working for the chiropractor. And, I mean, it would be - it's tricky balancing different part-time jobs. Fortunately, I have it good where I work for good people that work with me, but not everybody has that possibility.
So I'll either hopefully get another part-time job, or I don't know, start selling plasma.
HOBSON: Well, and as the economy has gotten better, at least for a lot of people around the country over the last few years, and the recovery has picked up a bit, have you noticed that? Has it been easier to get the part-time work, to try to fill out what you're not getting from your unemployment benefits?
HEAZLIT: No, well, I'm dealing with one thing that I just turned 55. So I think they look at your resume, and they see your experience, and they figure they can figure somebody younger for less amount of money. When you have a lot of job experience, if you apply for something that is - requires significantly less as far as credentials go, then they don't want to hire you because they see you as somebody who will probably leave at some point in time.
So you have to kind of hide your credentials when you apply. But the truth of the matter is that if I were to get something like an administrative assistant position full-time, I probably would leave at some point in time. So it's - you know, if I were able to get something using my degree.
I mean, it's really complex, and like I said, I love working for the chiropractor I work for, and I really want to be dedicated to working for him, but there's only so many massages that you can do in a week, and then that, you know, ebbs and flows. There are some weeks where it's slow and other weeks where it's busy. So, that makes it really difficult.
HOBSON: As you know, there are many people in this country who think that unemployment benefits simply keep people from looking for work. They don't incentivize job-seeking. And one of those people who's been talking about that is Senator Rand Paul, the Republican of Kentucky who said earlier this month that another extension of the benefits would be a disservice to the jobless because the longer people are on unemployment benefits, the harder it is for them to get hired because people don't want to hire somebody that's been out of work for a long time. What do you say to that?
HEAZLIT: Well, first of all I would like to say that he could spend his time much better by developing some sort of a mechanism that would incentivize employers to hire the unemployed. And number two, I would like to invite Senator Rand Paul to live off of $320 a week and working, you know, either not at all or a couple part-time jobs, which is what the majority of people have, and see what it's like.
When I sit in the unemployment office, and I was number 366 in line when I was there at 7 o'clock in the morning - this is at the Conflict Resolution Office - very single person that is in that office has a legitimate story. There's nobody who was sitting there slacking. And I'm sure there are slackers, I'm sure there are people that mooch off the system here and there. But it is by far not the vast majority. These people are looking for jobs, they're applying for jobs left and right. Rand Paul is out of touch with reality. That's the bottom line.
HOBSON: Have you got any friends that think the same thing, that have talked to you in a way that...
HEAZLIT: Oh, absolutely.
HEAZLIT: I have some friends that have - you know, they make postings on Facebook about these things, and, you know, I always answer, I try to be respectful about it but - and say hey, I'm one of these people. The problem I think is that we have so much political rhetoric, and people align themselves with some politician, and I guess maybe it makes them feel better than somebody else if they're able to adhere to this mantra.
They find ways to blame the unemployed. They find ways to blame individuals that are stuck in this system instead of really looking at the fact that the system does not give you a way out. The people that are passing these laws don't really understand what the impact is. So, yeah, I have friends, and I try to correct their thinking, but inevitably what it does is I think it really creates a wedge between you and that person, whether - you know, not from my end but from their end because people are really attached to the way they want to believe.
HOBSON: Tammie Heazlit of Pontiac, Michigan, whose unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out on Saturday. Tammie, thanks so much for joining us, and I hope the New Year brings you the kind of job that you're looking for.
HEAZLIT: Thanks. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.
HOBSON: And a quick check on another story we're following. Over the past year, a debate has erupted among physicists about what exactly happens when you fall into a black hole. It is a spirited argument that revolves around some really deep, deep concepts like being spaghetti-fied and whether holes have insides or not. Well, that story is going to be taken up later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.