In less than two weeks, Tamika Woods’ safety net will run out.
“I’ve worked on a lot of different projects — the Nevada Test Site, MGM Grand, to power plants, and I can safely say, I know how to work,” Woods said Tuesday in Washington, D.C. “But work now is so unsteady, and the only thing that is sustaining me at this point is unemployment (benefits). … I'm just at the point where I don’t know where I’m going to go next.”
Woods, a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 357 in Las Vegas, was in Washington as Rep. Steven Horsford’s guest at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. That afternoon, she participated in an event headlined by jobless workers aimed at drumming up support for a renewal of federal funding for emergency unemployment benefits — a refrain President Barack Obama repeated in his speech.
But it doesn’t seem to have caught on in Congress.
It has been more than a month since Congress let federal funding for emergency unemployment benefits expire, leaving 1.6 million long-term jobless Americans — and more than 20,000 Nevadans — in the lurch.
As more of their constituents' benefits dry up, members of Congress are starting to worry that they won’t be able to reverse the tide.
“I don’t think they’re going to pass an unemployment extension. I think that’s a priority, but I don’t see the Republicans coming up with a way to pay for that immediately,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Tuesday night. “I don’t want to say it’s dead, but I think it’s tough.”
“Either there are members in Congress who don’t know, or there are members in Congress who don’t care that 1.6 million of our friends, neighbors and colleagues are without unemployment insurance today,” Horsford, D-Nev., said Tuesday.
All members of the Nevada delegation have said they support an extension of unemployment benefits in some form.
But the hang-up is a nagging need to find a “pay-for” provision — an offset to the estimated $6.5 billion cost of extending unemployment benefits for three months, to entice enough Republicans to get the bill over any filibuster hurdles.
To date, the only Republican senator who has pledged to vote for an extension with or without a pay-for is Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who co-wrote the three-month extension bill, with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that is under consideration.
That bill involved no pay-for provisions. But Heller also joined with a group of Republicans this month to promote an offset that would have paid for both unemployment benefits and a 1 percent cut in the cost-of-living adjustment for veterans benefits, which was included in the recent budget agreement, by limiting the types of jobless assistance one can collect: Unemployment or disability, not both.
“That proposals’s still on the table, and it would pass tomorrow,” Heller said Tuesday. "They have the votes they need for UI, and they have the votes for COLA for veterans. So they have the votes that they need today.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is dismissing that proposal for a “new pay-for.” He said Wednesday that he thinks could bring the same number of Republicans on board.
“We don’t have 60, but I know we have 58 or 59 (senators),” Reid said. It takes 60 senators to avoid a procedural filibuster. “I hope we can get five courageous Republicans.”
Reid said that he hopes to have a three-month unemployment measure on the floor for a vote “next week.”
If it takes longer, things will get worse for Woods before they potentially get better.
Woods, who has been on unemployment since May, uses the money to cover her expenses and care for her mother, who has a host of medical problems. Woods said it was her last resort after riding out much of the recession-era construction slump by taking jobs out of state and working for less half her usual salary. Eventually, that work dried up too.
“You have the misconception of people on unemployment being lazy,” Woods said. “I don’t know that person.”
“But it’s going to get worse,” she said. “And if it gets worse, then where is that going to place me?”