BOISE – North Idaho House members helped lead an unsuccessful move Wednesday to boot 17,000 unemployed Idaho workers off their federal extended unemployment benefits – a move that would have cost those workers $65 million in benefits in the next nine months.
“If we continue this, all we are going to do is enable,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. “We’re out of money. … At some point we have to stand up and say, ‘That’s enough.’ ”
The extended unemployment benefits are 100 percent federally funded; there’s no state match. Idaho’s maximum unemployment benefit is $336 a week.
Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, “I think we would be better off to get people back to work, try to get the economy flowing. If we keep giving them money, that isn’t going to happen.”
He added, “We need to back away from the federal government’s money.”
Eight North Idaho state representatives joined the move to try to kill HB 109, a measure that makes a technical change to prevent Idaho from becoming ineligible for extended federal unemployment benefits this summer. Those benefits, under a law Congress passed in 2010, are being extended from 99 weeks to 106 weeks.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the House, “In my opinion, it’s time to lead the horse away from the trough and make them go to work.”
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, argued strongly against the move, saying people in his North Idaho district are hurting.
“In Bonner County, we have 2,700 people on our unemployment rolls and the Department of Labor is showing 60 jobs,” Eskridge told the House. “It’s justified to extend these benefits until our economy gets better and those people that want jobs can find jobs. I can tell you, that’s not the situation now.”
But Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, told the House, “How long are we going to extend it out? It’s kind of like a diseased limb now. We’re dragging it out and dragging it out. Isn’t perhaps the cleaner cut, the more merciful cut, (to end the benefits) instead of keep dragging it on?”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “My concern with this particular piece of legislation is that we are creating a welfare state.”
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, didn’t participate in the debate but said he agreed with Crane. “I think all 70 of us representatives on that House floor are compassionate, caring people,” he said. “There are other ways to help people in need, not through extending government benefits.”
Bob Fick, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Labor, said if the bill doesn’t pass, about 2,000 Idahoans would lose their unemployment benefits immediately when the state becomes ineligible for the extended benefits this summer. Another 600 to 700 would lose their benefits each week thereafter; by the end of the year, no Idahoans would receive the extended federal benefits.
In the Panhandle, unemployment stands at 11.5 percent, with 12,459 people out of work. Statewide, unemployment is 9.5 percent, with 71,919 workers without jobs.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, told the House, “We have people coming to our food bank for the first time ever, and still coming because they don’t have jobs. … The right thing to do is to vote for this bill.”
HB 109 passed the House on a 41-28 vote; it now moves to the Senate.