DALLAS — With Arizona’s economy still struggling to recover from a deep recession, the Legislature meets Friday in special session to consider Gov. Jan Brewer’s call for extending jobless benefits to 14,697 workers who have been unemployed for at least 79 weeks.
Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature refused to extend the benefits to 99 weeks in the regular session because they said it would discourage jobless Arizonans from seeking employment.
To address those concerns, the Republican Brewer is requiring that an unemployed person take any job that pays at least minimum wage, even if it is not related to their previous profession. An out-of-work chemical engineer, for example, would have to take a job in a fast-food restaurant or lose the $212 per week in extended benefits.
The jobless would also have to search for employment at least four days per week and document their efforts.
To bolster her conservative bona fides, Brewer cited the fact that “conservative strongholds” such as Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Idaho, and South Carolina have also approved extended jobless benefits.
If lawmakers refuse to extend the benefits, Arizona will lose about $3.2 million per week in federal funds, totaling nearly $87 million by the end of the year, according to state officials.
Arizona is one of the states hardest hit by the collapse of the housing market and is now ranked as the second-poorest state in the nation behind Mississippi.
Tourism officials are also dealing with a boycott of the state due to passage of a new immigration law that requires police to investigate the citizenship of people they encounter in their routine duties.
Hispanics fear that they will face arrest and deportation if they cannot prove they are citizens.
The law, designed to rid the state of illegal aliens, is under review by the federal courts and is not currently being enforced.
“The Legislature and I have taken concrete steps in recent months to turn Arizona’s economy around, and we’ve begun to see a lot of positive indicators,” Brewer said in issuing the call for the special session.
“But with the state unemployment rate still at 9.3% — and even higher in many rural areas — we can’t pretend there aren’t thousands of our fellow citizens who remain jobless and in need of assistance, she added.