Jun 172011

By Teri Walker–

A hastily called special session of the Arizona Legislature ended with no action taken to extend jobless benefits for nearly 15,000 Arizonans who received their last unemployment check this week.

Governor Jan Brewer pulled the legislature into a special session last Friday to urge Arizona lawmakers to extend long-term unemployment benefits for an additional 20 weeks, allowing unemployed Arizonans to receive jobless benefits for a total of 99 weeks.

The legislature left the Friday meeting in a stalemate and reconvened Monday, June 13, and ultimately decided not to take any action on the governor’s proposed amendment to a state law that would have made Arizona eligible to receive federal unemployment money totaling nearly $3.5 million a week.

Nearly 15,000 Arizonans’ jobless benefits were set to expire Saturday, June 11, with payments to another 30,000 Arizonans ending in the next month.

“I’m disappointed the legislature was unable to muster the support needed to extend federal assistance for jobless Arizonans,” said Brewer.

“I remain concerned and deeply saddened for those families whose unemployment assistance will shortly expire, especially in this uncertain job market.”

Lawmakers who opposed the extension of benefits cited concerns over accepting federal money when there is already a record federal budget deficit, and the provision of additional benefits creating a disincentive to seek work. Some said Governor Brewer hadn’t done enough to secure support for the proposal prior to calling the special session.

“This whole thing is really moot because I don’t think a vote will even take place,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-District 5, prior to Monday’s session.

“The governor didn’t line up enough people to back this plan. She jumped the gun by calling an emergency session.”

Usually, an emergency session isn’t called unless support for a measure has resulted in a preliminary agreement being hammered out, and adequate votes believed secured, then the session is a quick matter of formally passing the agreement and convening.

Allen went on to say there had been the opportunity in the recent regular session of the state legislature to address creating more jobs in Arizona by providing tax relief to business owners, making it possible for them to begin hiring again.

“The governor is putting all of this effort into extending benefits when we have no reason to believe there will be any more jobs waiting for these people 20 weeks from now than there are now. Why aren’t we working today to make businesses hang on a little longer so they can keep providing jobs?” asked Allen. “I wanted to do something this session for jobs, but the governor doesn’t want to provide relief for businesses until 2013-14.”

Arizona’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65,000 Arizona residents are currently drawing unemployment.