Working America Fights for the U.S. Postal Service

Kim McMurray – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Last month, the Pennsylvania Program Team took to the phones to urge Working America members to call their Congressmen in support of the U.S. Postal Service and the letter-carriers who work for this important institution.  It is hard to imagine our country without our army of blue-clad men and women out in the neighborhoods delivering the mail, but that is exactly where we are headed.

The U.S. Postal Service is in a fiscal crisis, but not for the reason you might think.  Sure, with the advent of email and mobile banking, the amount of mail that the average American sends each year is falling.  Birthday wishes are posted on Facebook, and even Netflix has switched to a “streaming only” model.  But that is not the reason the U.S. Postal Service is broke.

The U.S. Postal Service is out of money because in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.  This law requires the Postal Service to prefund its future health care benefits for retirees for the next 75 years in the next ten years.  Under this law, the Postal Service is required to pay an astonishing $103.7 billion into this fund by 2016.  This is a huge burden on the industry.  Besides paying for existing retirees benefits, they are also prefunding the benefits for employees who don’t even work there yet.  They are prefunding the benefits for employees who might not even be born yet.  This is something that no other government or private business is required to do.

If this law is not reformed, the Postal Service will be forced to lay off 30,000 workers, end Saturday delivery, and close post offices in many rural areas.

Working America members were outraged.   In our couple weeks of calling our members on this issue, we heard almost unanimous support for the Postal Service and too many anecdotes about letter carriers to count.

First there was the elderly woman who lived alone.  Her mailman checked in on her every day to make sure she was okay.  Next, there was the woman whose son recently passed away.  Her mailman sent the most beautiful card about watching him grow up over the years.  Last, there was our longtime activist Bob MacHaler who said, “Five-day delivery will kill the Postal Service.”  Working America members understand that letter-carriers don’t just provide a service, they are members of our communities.

On September 27, letter-carriers held a rally in every Congressional District calling on our Representatives to support them in their fight for fair funding. In Philadelphia, there were horns honking and flags waving.  They still need all the help they can get.  The fight for the Postal Service is not over.  If you haven’t already, please call your Congressman and ask them to support the Postal Service.  America cannot afford to lose this important institution.

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Word on the Street: Jobs lost at the hands of elected officials

Catherine Balsamo – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Ann Belser noted that, after processing July’s job stats, we are now at 9.1% unemployment. The article goes on to explain: “[July’s] jobs report would have been better if governments had not cut so many workers.” Unfortunately, states across the country, including Pennsylvania, have lost a painful amount of jobs at the hands of their own elected officials.

Under the new state budget here in Pennsylvania – a budget that doesn’t even include all the cuts to education that Governor Corbett wanted – we lost or will lose a total of 10,000 jobs in education alone.

Think about that: because of decisions made by our elected officials ten thousand jobs will be gone within the field of education in the state of Pennsylvania. Wow.

As painful or shocking as these statistics are, the on-the-ground impacts of this continuing jobs crisis (exacerbated by anti-government politicians) are more staggering than any unemployment statistic could be.

One Working America member here in Western Pennsylvania went from making a solid professional wage as a computer information services technician to being unable to support himself after he was laid-off. He is a single dad, and he and his daughter recently moved back in with his parents. This member can no longer access the sort of medical care he could when he was employed. Even though this member is exceptionally brilliant and hard working, he still can’t find work. The jobs simply aren’t there.

Another member is desperate for her and her housemate to find employment. Their lives may depend on it, because she has health issues that demand a diet she can’t afford, and because her housemate has no access to healthcare and consequently relies on her to be his “medical personnel.”

Our governor may have run on a “jobs campaign,” but he has put jobs – and consequently us – last. The new state budget will put thousands more families in situations like the ones such as those just described.

Governor Corbett and job-killing elected officials across the country need to know what their constituents main priority is – getting back to work – and that we are holding them accountable for upholding their campaign pledges of focusing on job creation.

Working America members know that elected officials who claim to be promoting job growth by adding corporate tax loopholes are not really focusing on reducing unemployment. We all see that those extra corporate profits are going to the top, instead of being used for investments that put Americans back to work.

Despite the obstacles that unemployed Pennsylvanians face while officials like Governor Corbett fail to get it right, workers have done anything but give up. The computer technician mentioned above is organizing his friends and neighbors to take action. He also spoke at a jobs town hall and interviewed with the employment reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The second member mentioned wrote a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette, sharing her unemployment situation and calling on Governor Corbett to “balance the budget responsibly.” Working America members are attending events, signing petitions, writing letters to elected officials and to the papers, and getting their friends and family members involved. Actions like these are some of the things that we need to do to hold our elected officials accountable for promoting job growth.

With more and more folks doing their part to hold our politicians accountable, we’ll be less and less likely to open the newspaper and read that “the jobs report would have been better if governments had not cut so many workers.”

Word on the Street: Let’s hope they listen

Kim McMurray – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Karen Traylor could not stop beaming as she talked about her son’s recent graduation. “I even brought his diploma with me,” she said, passing the framed certificate over to the legislative assistant. This may have been the first time anyone ever brought a high school diploma to a lobby meeting, but Karen had a good reason.

For the past month, Philadelphia-area Working America members have been visiting local district offices and lobbying against the upcoming budget cuts to education and social services. They have urged their elected officials to use the $540 million in surplus to fill some of the holes in education. They have demanded that corporations pay their fair share, that the Pennsylvania legislature close corporate tax loopholes and enact a natural gas severance tax so that education and social services can be funded the way they are meant to be funded. They put a face on these cuts.

It started three weeks ago at southeastern Senator’s office. Our entire field team plus a few members descended on the office to deliver over 350 handwritten letters from his constituents. This Republican Senator has stood strong against these budget cuts and we showed him that his constituents are behind him in this fight. The Senator was taken aback by the sheer volume of the letters, but was truly touched by our member’s passion and our organizer’s stories from the field. One member, Kristina Smith, pulled him aside to tell him about her middle son. Jacob is on the autism spectrum. He was only diagnosed about a year ago when a teacher at school picked up on the symptoms. Since then, he has received amazing support from his school, and his speech and social interactions have improved dramatically. Kristina is worried that his autism programs might be cut as schools struggle to make ends meet.

Next, our members visited a district office in Philadelphia. “You guys just need to keep doing what you are doing,” said the Senator’s legislative assistant. “Keep talking about the cuts, keep talking about the surplus, and keep talking about the corporate tax loopholes. Maybe the Governor will start to listen.”

That brings us back to Karen at the third stop on our lobbying tour. Karen’s son struggles with learning disabilities and graduated from high school with the help of programs for kids with dyslexia. In the fall, he is hoping to attend Temple University. “When my son graduated, it was the happiest day of my life. He would not have been able to do that without special education programs,” she told the legislative assistant. “Sure, he is done with high school now, but what about the rest of those kids? What about their parents? That’s why I am fighting against these cuts.”

This month, our members put a face and personal story on the budget cuts for elected officials around Philadelphia. With only a couple days left until the budget deadline, let’s hope they listen.

Word on the Street: By design – the dumbing down of Pennsylvania

Vanessa Miller – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When I was in school, we had civics class. We were assigned to bring a news story about the community and we all discussed it. We were taught to take pride in our neighborhood, to ask questions about our government, and to take an active part in our communities. Now, my grandchildren barely have to take history or social studies class.

When I was in school, we had arts and music classes. Kids were able to express themselves through paintings, singing, or playing an instrument.

When I was in school, we had physical education. We had time to exercise our bodies and get our energy out. Now we have an obesity crisis, and gym classes are being cut by overstressed budgets. Kids’ frustration levels are so high because they don’t have a structured outlet.

We even had a banking program. You could start with a quarter, and add to it every week or every month. We were proud to have a banking book to show us how to save. We were introduced to finance at an early age and taught about the importance of money management.

School in Pennsylvania is different now and this year we are in a crisis. With Governor Corbett’s atrocious budget cuts- arts, music, physical education, and advanced programs are all being cut. Taking a note from Tom Ridge-even funds for school buses are on the line- and as we close more and more neighborhood schools and gas prices continue to rise, kids will no longer be able to get to school.

Yet Governor Corbett wants to push more money into our prison system. We are cutting money from education, yet increasing funds for jails. To me, this seems like it is done by design. If they are taking education away from children, if they are taking opportunity away from children, they are expecting them to turn to crime. This budget says that they are anticipating a flood of crime into the community- a flood of citizens to be locked up and put away.

Are they expecting people to go to jail because we aren’t planning on bringing any jobs back?

Are they willing to sacrifice a generation of people who aren’t educated, who will turn to crime because they have nothing left?

If we truly are America, the land of opportunity, how have we allowed politicians (that we elected into office) to sacrifice our kids? How have we allowed our country to become a place just for corporations and the rich, where the rest of us don’t matter?

Corporate CEOs can afford private school for their kids.

Word on the Street: It’s Raining in Pennsylvania

Kim McMurray – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Meteorologically, it has been raining in Philadelphia for the past week and half. Sure, we have had a couple bright days, but overall it’s been dark and gloomy. Periodically, it has rained so hard that you would swear it would never end. Lightening tearing across the sky has become the new normal.

Economically, it has been raining in Philadelphia for a lot longer than a week and a half. The storm has spread throughout the entire state. We are still at 7.5% unemployment (not counting the 99-ers), we are cutting services for the elderly and the autistic, breast cancer screenings, and rape crisis centers.

And if it is raining in Pennsylvania, the public schools are flooding. Governor Corbett and PA House Republicans each introduced budgets cutting at least $900 million from the public school system. This translates into catastrophic results on the local level. In Bristol Township, they are thinking about cutting kindergarten all together. Coatesville and Chester School Districts might be switching over to a 4-day per week schedule. Philadelphia might be eliminating a program that provides Transpasses for students to get to and from school each day. These are stormy times, indeed.

Every night, Working America field organizers talk to members of the community who are rightfully worried about how these cuts will affect children. Karen Traylor is a mother of four in Philadelphia. She has seen how a lack of resources in the schools has affected her children. “There are not enough teachers, the classrooms are overcrowded, and the books are completely outdated. All of this is because they do not have enough money.” She worries that the new round of budget cuts will eliminate the advanced classes that have helped her youngest daughter thrive.

Alexandra Sytnik is a parent in Croyden, PA. She recently heard that an entire middle school will be closing its doors in the next two years. This means larger class sizes for an already strained teaching staff and less individual attention for students. Kids better start wearing raincoats to school.

Wait, is that a sunray peaking through the clouds? Is that an umbrella? For the first time in… a while, the PA legislature took in $503 million in tax surplus. That is $503 million that isn’t accounted for in the budgets currently being proposed. That’s a kindergarten program. That’s arts and music education. That’s Transpasses so city kids can afford to get to school. That’s shelter from the storm.

There are a lot more ways that we can fully fund the budget. We can close the Delaware tax loophole; we can impose a natural gas severance tax; we can demand that corporations pay their fair share. But these things take time, and right now we have an extra $503 million that can fund programs that are currently on the chopping block.

So what’s the hold up? Governor Corbett and House Republicans want to save the surplus. They want to put it in a rainy day fund. I guess they haven’t looked outside.

Word on the Street: Fighting for a responsible budget

Catherine Balsamo — Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

  • Attempts to privatize education with the public’s money.
  • The elimination of accessible healthcare programs for low-income folks.
  • Efforts to sell off one of the key resources keeping our budget afloat and providing our state with good, family-sustaining jobs: our wine and spirit stores.
  • The proposed choking of state funding for all types of education, from Head Start to higher ed., kindergarten to high school, state colleges to community colleges.
  • The planned slashing of funding for programs assisting seniors and folks with disabilities, as well as folks who are at risk of losing their homes.

Many of these losses, which would be outrageous and painful to anyone who isn’t a millionaire (or who has children, family or friends who aren’t millionaires), would be done in Pennsylvania to finance $1.8 billion dollars worth of tax loopholes and tax breaks for corporations in Pennsylvania… or to give corporations even more of our state’s wealth.

Since corporations are currently making record profits by laying off employees and overworking the ones who are left, does giving Pennsylvania taxpayers’ money to corporations make any sense, especially when we would have to sacrifice educational quality and public services to afford to do so?

Working Americans know that this is crazy: that this makes no economic sense, and could be devastating to our state, economy, communities, families, and future. And Working Americans are more than willing to take action to preserve their public education, quality jobs, access to healthcare, and ability to retire securely.
Working Americans also demand, loud and clear, that corporate accountability finally replace corporate welfare.

The Rally for a Responsible Budget in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, May 3rd clearly illustrated the will, ethics, work ethic, strength, and sound judgment of folks across the state, as thousands of Pennsylvanians woke up in the wee hours of the morning to bus across the state and demonstrate to our elected officials that we must have a budget that encourages quality public education and family-sustaining jobs, instead of one that decimates these essentials to finance corporate gimmes.

Despite the overbearing sacrifices that working Americans are being asked to make to finance the richest of the rich, we hear this plan referred to as “shared sacrifice.” One Working America member from the Pittsburgh area noted, “The little guy keeps being asked to do more and more,” while corporations are getting breaks! Another member, a resident of Johnstown, recently pointed out that “you’ve got to work 3x harder to support your family” these days. Considering that, should our state budget ask the little guy to finance corporate tax breaks? This doesn’t sound too much like “shared sacrifice.”

At the Rally for a Responsible Budget, Working America organizers and eager rally attendees teamed up to demonstrate – simply, clearly, with a dash of humor – what this “shared sacrifice” request is truly asking for.

Harrisburg budget rally

Above is a photo illustrating what Pennsylvania’s proposed “shared sacrifice” plan involves.
Obviously, the guy grinning and cuddling up with moneybags as big bills pop out of his hat is the person in the photo who really needs a tax break. And, clearly, the woman standing next to him should be the one financing it by sacrificing her education, wages, public services, and/or job.

This photo is just one of many like it, with rally attendees eager to highlight the juxtaposition they’re experiencing between their sacrifices and corporate “sacrifices.”

Rally for a Responsible Budget

Accompanying these illuminating depictions of an out-of-whack budget plan, Working America members and rally attendees contributed in innumerable other ways to preserve and enhance our public education and family-sustaining jobs, instead of allowing them to be squashed by the corporate agenda. Three Working America members and a Working America member coordinator took the time to speak with the staff of a state representative: thanking them for standing with their constituents by demanding a responsible budget, expressing the value of our public wine and spirit stores and contributions these stores make to our economy and state budget, and urging the representative to support public education by preventing devastating defunding from a potential taxpayer-funded school voucher program. Members shared their insight, which grabbed the attention of the representative’s staff and clearly provoked genuine thought.
Working America members continued to contribute throughout the day by providing “I AM WORKING AMERICA” signs for fellow attendees, by providing energy and enthusiasm that uplifts the movement, by (literally) waving the Working America flag (see the photo above), and even by fixing the Working America camera.

It is so clear how meaningful a fair economy for working families is to the members who attended: despite the 13-hour day, time in the hot sun, and two extensive bus rides, everyone consistently contributed, and everyone was genuinely friendly, helpful, dedicated, and glad to be there.

“It’s an educated, healthy workforce that makes the country work,” a long-time Working America member-activist noted a few days before the rally. Members participating in the Pennsylvania budget rally furthered Working America’s contributions to ensuring Pennsylvania has an educated and healthy workforce. And by continuing to act, Working America members will get our state, and our country, back to working for working families.

Word on the Street: Rallying for a fair budget

Todd Foose – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


The rain held off until the ride home. Mostly sunny skies had slowly darkened until the clouds overhead let loose with heavy downpours of rain. We pulled off the road into a Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza not far from the small town of Bedford. The short trip from the van to the rest area left most of us soaked. But inside, the mood was anything but dreary.

The plaza was packed with people in brightly colored shirts. Groups decked out in bright golds and purples and blues and reds and greens were milling about. There was a buzz about the entire place and even complete strangers were willing to say hello, hold a door or lend a hand.

“I haven’t seen this many union people in one place since my last family reunion!”

This spontaneous reaction from one of our Working America field managers drew warm smiles from all around.

“You must have had a good family!” one woman replied. Several others nodded or voiced their own approval.

It was here, at a small service plaza just outside a small Pennsylvania town that I realized the Rally for a Responsible Budget had been a success. Hours later and more than a hundred miles away, people faced with long drives home in less than ideal weather were still energized by a spirit of unity that had been on full display on the steps of the State Capitol on a sunny afternoon.

And what a display it was. No one who attended will ever forget those bright gold and purple and red and green and blue shirts flocking to the Capitol grounds. When our group from Working America’s Pittsburgh office arrived, we could already hear several excited groups chanting in unison from more than a block away and the rally was still an hour away from starting.

Special thanks should be given to the men and women in the bright orange shirts worn by event staff and organizers. Foot traffic seemed to move smoothly about the entire area and there were clear paths up and down the Capitol’s front steps even at the height of the rally. Thousands of people from all over the state were able to make their way to the registration and information tents before receiving a packaged lunch.

By one o’clock, the golds and purples and reds and blues and greens had coalesced on the Capitol steps. Each color, of course, represented an individual union, local, or organization. In an impressive display of unity, dozens of labor groups were represented. SEIU. UMWA. AFSCME. USW. PSEA. AFT. AFL-CIO. One capitol police officer would remark afterward that it was the largest gathering he had seen at the Capitol in ten years on the job. Five thousand strong had come from all over Pennsylvania to stand united and demand a responsible budget that does not break the backs of working families.

The event’s speakers drove this point home. Richard Jennings, of AFSCME 13, pointed out that: “Governor Corbett’s budget is NOT about ‘shared’ sacrifice – it’s about OUR sacrifice!” Massive budget cuts have asked ordinary, hardworking Pennsylvanians to sacrifice their jobs, their benefits and their pensions. Huge cuts to education in particular have asked parents and children to sacrifice the one thing that is most essential to paving the way toward a brighter future. Tuition at public universities is set to skyrocket. Mass transit cuts mean more people will lose their jobs because they can no longer get to work.

These are the sacrifices that the governor’s budget demands from ordinary, working Pennsylvanians. The governor’s budget demands the most from those who are least able to give it. It takes away from those who are most in need. At the same time, the governor’s budget doesn’t ask those who could most afford to pitch in to sacrifice at all.

While the governor asks children to give up important programs that nurture their creativity, teach them valuable skills like teamwork and keep them engaged in constructive activities, he has refused to ask gas drilling companies poised to make billions off the state’s natural resources to pay their fair share. While the governor asks children to deal with bigger classes and less personal attention, he refuses to ask big corporations who do business in Pennsylvania to pay the same state taxes paid by the rest of us.

As I listened to Connie Perez, a state hospital worker, talk about the impact of the cuts on her family, I couldn’t help but remember the stories I’d already been hearing while going door to door. Her son may not be able to finish college at Temple due to tuition hikes, just like two young men I had spoken to the night before on the other side of the state.

As I listened to Alan Redding, a municipal worker, talk about the way the cuts to sports and arts programs will affect his teenage daughter, I was reminded of the young girl who had brought out her violin to show me as I spoke with her mother about public education. I remembered the disheartened tone of her voice as she told her mom that her school’s orchestra leader had told them they probably wouldn’t be continuing the following year. And I could see clearly the pained face of another young mother who asked me how she was supposed to tell her daughter that she wouldn’t be able to do gymnastics anymore.

What could I say to her? What could anyone? What could Governor Corbett or any of our representatives say to these parents and workers and children? Would any of them be able to speak to these ordinary men and women all over the state face to face and tell them that they had to make these painful sacrifices so that Wal-Mart could continue to exploit tax loopholes, run to Delaware and get out of paying any taxes at all?

Could any one of them drive out to the areas now abandoned by mass transit and tell a worker that he has to give up his job so that the companies making billions of dollars off of gas drilling can continue to pay no severance taxes?

Is that shared sacrifice?

The governor and those in the state house who support his budget may not want to make that kind of trip out to see the people they represent face to face in that way. And so on Tuesday, the people of Pennsylvania took a trip, many over hundreds of miles, and paid a visit to them.

The message was loud and clear coming from five thousand strong: We Are One! We demand a responsible budget that asks for sacrifices from those who can most afford to make them before it demands hardworking Pennsylvanians give up their jobs or their children’s education. We demand to be heard. And we want our representatives to know that if they don’t listen to us this time we have one more message: We’ll be back!

“I Am Working America” across America

(Guest post by Barbara Helmick – thanks everyone for their amazing pictures! -Doug)

Working families are under attack across the country and Working America members, with courage and pride, sent photos to show they are one with these families. Eager to show our individual numbers quickly add up to power, these photos are just a sampling of the great people who want to show the powers that be, that we are strong, we are ready to act, and we are beautiful.

Word on the Street: Defunding Public Schools in the Name of “Choice”

Kim McMurray – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Politicians are always talking about the importance of education. They make grand statements like, “Education is the backbone of our nation.” “Children are our future.” “Schools should be palaces.” These make wonderful sound bites, but the truth of the matter is that our education system is in disarray. Public schools are overburdened and underfunded. Teachers are given little to no support in the classroom and are vilified in the media. Every year, public school teachers and expected to do more with less and suddenly, it’s as if every third grade teacher got into the profession to make a quick buck.

Pennsylvania politicians aren’t making it any easier. Some Senators in Harrisburg want to make the problem even worse by sinking billions of dollars into a tax-payer funded voucher scheme. Hiding behind a mantra of “school choice,” these vouchers would further defund our public schools and things we know make education better, like small class sizes, access to books and computers, safe schools, and good teachers.

Working America members understand this and are taking a stand against tax-payer funded school vouchers. Philadelphia member KB said, “Providing quality education programs will lead to successful, productive citizens who will be a benefit to our state and the nation. School vouchers have not been proven to be successful and, in fact, take resources from community-based schools.”

Willow Grove member Edwin said “The public schools need all the support they can get, and the Governor’s budget would not only cut that support by reducing general education funding, but would also weaken it by spending money on school vouchers.”

Let’s start at the beginning. Under a three year system, low-income students could receive a voucher for up to $9,000 to go a different school. The first myth is that the families would get to choose where to send their children with the vouchers. In fact, no school would be mandated to accept a single voucher student. Since $9,000 won’t get you into many of the private schools in the state (Philadelphia Friends is over $30,000 each year), families will be left with a handful of parochial schools. Often times, these schools are not equipped to handle children with learning disabilities or who require special services. The choice is left up to the schools which families are left waiting for an acceptance letter.

The second myth is that vouchers actually improve education. In study after study, in city after city, voucher students do not test any better than their public school counterparts. The Pennsylvania Senators supporting vouchers managed to get around this annoying fact by not requiring that students who accept vouchers take state tests to determine if the system is working. Nope, let’s just take away money from public schools and hope for the best.

Last, while the politicians are saying that this plan won’t cost tax-payers a thing, they are merely passing on the buck to the local municipalities. Because the vast majority of students will stay in the public schools (most likely, when the plan is fully implemented, most of the vouchers will go to low-income students already enrolled in parochial schools), the local districts will have to make up for the loss of state funding somehow. They will do this through raising property and school taxes.

We need to rethink our priorities in Pennsylvania. If we want to have a future, a backbone for our nation, than public education needs to be on top.

Word on the Street: Housing Fears for Jobless Workers

Kim McMurray — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The politicians have it easy. At the end of November, the unemployment insurance extension is set to expire. With the unemployment rate still hovering around ten percent, this means that millions of Americans will be without mortgage payments, groceries, and heat. They will be without Christmas presents, winter coats, and school supplies. Sure, maybe a job will pop up. Maybe from one of the hundreds of applications that they sent out, they will get a call back. They will keep hoping and applying, and maybe it will finally pay off. But undoubtedly, the rent will be due.

I don’t envy the hardworking men and women in the Unemployment Offices around the country. Not for a second. I don’t envy the person on the other side of the desk, or phone call, or the email telling the unemployed that their worst fears have been realized.

At our last member meet-up, the conversation turned to Unemployment Insurance and then to housing because housing fears are at the end of all long-term unemployment worries. “I don’t know what I am going to do,” said our hostess Angela, whose benefits will be exhausted at the end of the month. She is currently on a month to month lease at her apartment because without a steady job or proof of income past November, she couldn’t sign on for a full year. She contemplates moving in with family, but worries about stability for her daughter.

Lynda has been searching for more affordable housing for months. Her house is under foreclosure but thankfully, the bank gave her a few months to find something else. Every day she is scouring the internet and newspapers for houses. They have looked at dozens of places, but their applications have been turned down every time. “If our unemployment insurance runs out, we might have to move into a shelter,” Lynda said. She survived breast cancer; she thought she could survive this recession.

“I have been saving every penny I can to make it through the winter. We may not have heat or extra money, but I can’t spend the winter in my car again.” Liz tears up as she remembers freezing nights, huddled under blankets in her car last year after her hours as a nurse’s assistant were cut back so severely that she lost her apartment. She would save as much as she could to stay in a motel for a night. Eventually, through odd jobs and short term assignments, she was able to work her way into an apartment, but if this vote fails her, and she isn’t able to find another job in time, she might be right back where she started.

Congress has a choice to make: to extend the lifeline, or not? To keep people in their homes and food on the table, or not? It’s a simple choice, but there will be people who vote against it. Here is the easy part: if this monumentally important vote fails, the politicians will go home, pay their rent, buy their groceries and celebrate the holidays.

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