COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When federal emergency unemployment benefits expired last month, the effects ran deep in a Colorado county marked by two exit ramps off Interstate 25 — one leading to the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, the other to the Fort Carson Army post.
Hardly a liberal bastion, El Paso County has the largest number of people in the state who lost unemployment benefits, and many aren't happy about it. Plenty of Republicans, too, depend on jobless aid that Republicans in Congress are hesitant to prolong. The ideological argument for standing against an extension of benefits — that the aid can ultimately make it harder to find work — meets a more complex reality where people live.
Democrats propose to extend the emergency benefits for people who have been or are about to be out of work for more than six months; Republicans are less inclined to take that step, particularly if it means the government borrows more money. The paralysis led to the expiration of benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed on Dec. 28. Lawmakers are still working on a compromise.
The standoff infuriates people such as Lita Ness, who lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012 and just received her final check from the unemployment office.
"I'm registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I'm probably changing to Democrat," Ness, 58, said as she took a break from a computer training class at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. "People in our district who vote 'No' on this, I'm not going to support them."
El Paso County is represented by Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, a conservative who has objected to the extension of unemployment benefits unless they are fully paid for with money from elsewhere in the budget. "It's $6 billion, doesn't do anything to create jobs," Lamborn's spokesman, Jarred Rego, said of the Democrats' proposal. "House Republicans remain focused on creating jobs and improving the economy."