The latest cold-blooded chapter of “Assault on the Working Class” appeared in Friday’s Lexington Herald Leader article, “Bill seeks to limit unemployment help for Kentuckians.”
It stars a kind of “anti-hero” — Scott County legislator Phillip Pratt, the congenial owner of a thriving landscaping business. No doubt it crossed his mind, his business benefits when its payment into the unemployment fund decreases. Pratt says cutting the benefit period in half “incentivizes” people to find jobs, and this new round of cuts recalls the 1933 Depression-era session, under the hapless Gov.Ruby Laffoon.
Jobs vanished, desperation increased and ministers weighed Kentucky schoolchildren in their classrooms. Why? Because they needed to get donated food to the weakest children first. Hard to imagine that kind of hard time, isn’t it? Fortunately, federal and state governments funded programs lifting people up when they were down.
As the “hard time” tightened its grip, legislators slashed property taxes, which triggered a default on payments into the federal relief program. County relief offices closed, and schools were next on the list.
Laffoon, an affable judge said to be a puppet of his wealthy cousin, “Polk Laffoon,” a powerful utility executive, faced both a state treasury default and starvation in the counties. It dawned on him he had a duty to serve and protect his constituents — the definition of public service. Urging a new sales tax, he was hospitalized for stress, and put under guard after letters threatened to “blow the ole governor” to hell with dynamite. In May he opened a special session on taxes by declaring, “I am tired of playing politics on the miseries of the people of this state!”
He got his sales tax, schools reopened and the legislature balanced the budget while funding social services for many decades after.
Fast forward to Pratt’s support of this bill. Many permanent manufacturing jobs pay $40,000 to 50,000 annually. Unemployment benefits are capped at $ 448.00 per week, far below those earnings. Did legislators study re-employment patterns? How quickly, on average, do workers move off unemployment, to a comparable new job? Is the reduction in Pratt’s business expense worth pushing workers into a downward spiral? Losing a job is devastating, and cutting the benefit period increases that stress, especially for workers paid $10 per hour or less, the more common scenario.
The pride of this state is the skill, labor and spirit of its people. Asserting cuts stimulate economic development is an old shell game — why not consider fair solutions that avoid penalizing workers drawing unemployment. The News-Graphic has my contact information, Mr. Pratt, please get in touch if you’re not afraid to consider other options, and the views of other working class residents.
It’s easy to cut benefits based on an arbitrary unemployment rate. It’s hard, inconvenient and tedious to take time to meet and consider differing viewpoints and struggles of the people you serve. Ditch the partisan ideology, immerse yourself in the stories of your constituents and be assured your honesty and integrity will remain intact.
Sharon Roggenkamp is a Georgetown resident.