John Florez: Funds for the unemployed? No thanks

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

The governor holds numerous economic summits to promote and attract business, yet little attention is given to the creation of policies that promote jobs and opportunities for the 66,000 unemployed Utahns and the unknown number of discouraged workers that don’t appear in the statistic.

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There is a disconnect between the values of our people and some policies lawmakers promulgate. Their policies often do not reflect our values. There is nothing more discouraging in our society than a person who wants to work and cannot get a job. The worst thing one can do is to deny them any hope. Yet that’s what we do to the poor and the unemployed. It appears hypocritical when lawmakers have more compassion for employers than they do for those in need.

So, where’s the compassion when we have politicians proposing to cut off unemployment checks to the unemployed so they will go find work; or require the poor to take a drug test in order to obtain food stamps or welfare, and make them do volunteer work as a way to pay back for “feeding at the government trough?” What about CEOs who take government subsidies? Shouldn’t they also get drug tested and have to do volunteer work?

Our political leaders tout Utah’s great economic growth and national recognition. The governor holds numerous economic summits to promote and attract business, yet little attention is given to the creation of policies that promote jobs and opportunities for the 66,000 unemployed Utahns and the unknown number of discouraged workers that don’t appear in the statistic.

The Utah unemployment insurance law reads, "Economic insecurity due to unemployment is a serious menace to the health, morals and welfare of the people of this state … that requires appropriate action by the Legislature to … lighten its burden which now so often falls with crushing force upon the unemployed worker and his family" (35A-4-102). That law was followed 18 years ago when the law was written, yet seems ignored today.

Two years ago, Utah turned down $100 million in federal unemployment benefits as the governor believed there were plenty of jobs to be filled. At that time he said, "The real challenge … is balancing the needs of Utah's unemployed with the cost to fund unemployment insurance, which is shouldered by Utah businesses in the form of payroll taxes." He fails to understand the purpose of the state's unemployment insurance program that is three-fold: to help workers who have lost their jobs, to hold on to ready workers, and to maintain a stable economy. Would he turn the money away if it were for business development?

After a year, the governor is still pondering whether he will take federal money to help 123,000 Utahns who cannot afford health care. They include laid off skilled and professional workers and people with terminal illnesses. Yet he doesn’t seem to hesitate taking federal money when it comes to transportation, buildings or business.

The governor’s efficiency in government programs sacrifices its effectiveness in serving the needy by subjecting them to bureaucratic indignities no human should endure. And that may be the greatest harm, “It neglects the poverty of the spirit in ministering the needs of the flesh" (Cahn & Cahn, "The War on Poverty," Yale Law Journal, 1964).

The governor and legislators should honor the oath and values that are the hallmark of our people — compassion, the dignity of every individual, and to care for each other.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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