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Kim Brown spoke about her personal struggle with unemployment after losing her job several years ago at an event at the Chicago Temple downtown Thursday.

Advocates urge Sen. Kirk to support unemployment benefits

by James Arkin
Jan 23, 2014

Cathy Foster lost her job more than a year ago and filed for unemployment benefits the next month. She said she still has the slips of paper where she kept track of her finances while collecting benefits.

“It’s humiliating and depressing to feel you can’t provide for yourself,” Foster said.

Foster was one of several speakers to share personal struggles with unemployment at an event hosted by the political group Organizing for Action Thursday at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. The speakers urged Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to support an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which expired at the end of last year.

It was the second time in as many days that advocates called on Kirk to support an extension of federal benefits; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky spoke in support of extending the program Wednesday. A deal in the Senate failed earlier this month, with Kirk voting against bringing the bill to the floor, while Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voted for the measure.

Kirk tweeted before the vote that spending cuts should offset the money used to pay for unemployment insurance. His office did not return a request for comment.

Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said benefits should be extended because the economic recovery is not complete.

“We’re not quite there yet, and that’s what the need for this program is,” Rowell said. “No one is calling for this to go on endlessly. We’re calling for it to go on based off economic circumstances on the ground, because that’s what actually impacts people that are looking for work.”

Kim Brown lost her job in November 2011 after 11 years with the same company. When she was on unemployment insurance, she said she received $1200 each month. After subtracting $900 for rent, followed by utilities and transportation, she said she had just $100 each month for food and other expenses.

“For anyone in Congress to suggest that the unemployed are having some kind of extended vacation by living off this modest stipend is completely ridiculous and insulting,” Brown said.

Foster said she is looking for freelance jobs and other work but that jobs aren’t necessarily available.

“There is simply not a job for everybody yet,” Foster said. “It’s like playing a game of musical chairs. Somebody is going to get left out no matter how hard you try to get a chair.”