gladiator.jpgAn out-of-work gladiator goes to the unemployment office looking to get benefits.

The woman behind the counter asks: “Did you kill last week?”

Gladiator: “No.”

Woman: “Did you try to kill last week?”

Gladiator: “Yes.”

Woman: “Now listen, this is your last week of unemployment insurance. Either you kill somebody next week or we’re going to have to change your status.”

OK, so unemployment insurance isn’t that old, but it has been around for a long time. And now, President Obama wants to make changes to the program to help struggling employees, changes not seen in the history of jobless benefits, which date back to 1930s in this country.

All of you need to know right now which states are threatening not to accept federal stimulus money just so they won’t have to expand benefits to a broader segment of out-of-work people.

According to a New York Times story today, the Republican governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Alaska and Idaho, and the Democratic governor of Tennessee have all raised concerns about Obama’s plan to expand unemployment insurance, and workers in many of these states are doing what they can to encourage their governors to give them a break already and allow the 74 year old program to finally come into the 21st Century.

The first government run system of unemployment benefits was introduced in England in 1911. It took more than two decades later to make it to our shores with Wisconsin being the first state to enact a program in 1932 as the Great Depression threw so many people out of work.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security bill and that included the federally mandated unemployment program that was financed jointly by federal and state taxes.

There have been attempts over the years to revamp the system, but those have failed. Now Obama thinks he can fend off the partisanship and finally give the program a facelift.

Here’s a rundown on what the administration has put into the stimulus package from CNN/Money:

The Recovery Act will help unemployed workers by:
– Increasing unemployment checks by $25 per week
– Excluding the first $2,400 of unemployed benefits from federal tax
– Allowing more individuals to qualify for extended unemployment benefits

Taxpayers receiving unemployment compensation will get the weekly pay increase and tax exemption of $2,400 during 2009. If taxpayers are withholding federal taxes from their benefit, they may want to adjust the withholding based on this change. All individuals who received unemployment in 2009, should reduce the reported unemployment benefits by $2,400 (but not below $0) when they file their 2009 return.

The bill also lengthens the eligibility of extended unemployment benefits. The program provides up to 33 extra weeks of unemployment benefits once they exhaust the regular 26 weeks. The extended benefits are available for individuals who exhaust regular unemployment benefits by Dec. 31, 2009.

The plan is to expand benefits, for the first time, to part-time workers and for individuals that come in and out of the work force — you know, people who take time off to care for a child or sick parent. Many of them are denied benefits because they were not working for the required number of quarters prior to being laid off.

It all make sense, and will be a lifeline to so many people struggling to find jobs in this economy.

But some politicians are putting their pride before they’re duty to help their constituents.

The Times piece doesn’t quote any of the governors directly. They probably don’t have the guts to make a case for this directly to their citizens.

It does include a written statement from Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who sent a letter to Obama:

“I remain opposed to using these funds to expand existing government programs, burdening the state with ongoing expenditures long after the funding has dried up.”

It might be a good idea for Perry and all the other governors threatening not to expand the program to send a letter right to the working stiffs in their states.

Clearly, Kelley Joyce, a jobless resident of South Carolina quoted in the article won’t be happy.

In response to Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina considering rejecting the stimulus money because of the beefing up of jobless benefits she says: “Apparently because he has money and he doesn’t have to worry about everybody else who doesn’t have money.”

It may be time for workers to make like gladiators and force our elected officials to start worrying, no?

Just in case you thought I came up with the gladiator joke above, I wish. It was Mel Brooks.

Here’s a clip from “The History of the World”:

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