Why Won't The Stimulus Law Help Unemployed Oklahomans?

Wednesday, March 4th 2009, 5:31 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Some are struggling to survive the economic meltdown.  New numbers from Workforce Oklahoma show just how bad things have gotten, even in the Tulsa-area.  More than 3,400 Tulsa workers have been laid off over the last 12 months.  And, people who rely on unemployment to get by are running out of time.  So, why won't the new stimulus law protect them?

There are 500 Oklahoma citizens who will stop receiving jobless benefits at the end of the week.  For them, time is up.  No more extensions.  No more help.

One of those workers tells The News On 6 he's now facing life on the streets.

"I can't even get on a bus. I don't have a $1.25 to my name to get on a bus," said Jim McMasters.

Jim McMasters is 59 years old, unemployed, and penniless.  He says he's trying to find work, but he's fighting a losing war.

"You put out resumes, things like that, but it's very difficult for a 60-year-old guy to compete, to complete against a 35 year old," said Jim McMasters.

McMasters worked at a Tulsa advertising firm for 12 years.  He was let go last year.

"I was just old and fat. So, I was gone," said Jim McMasters.

McMaster's been on unemployment for 11 months.  His benefit year is up in April.  He thought the stimulus package would give him an extension, plus a small pay raise.

"I do feel betrayed. I feel I was misled totally," said Jim McMasters.

But, like 38 other states, Oklahoma does not qualify for the new benefit, known as a Tier Two Extension.  That requires a state unemployment rate of 6% for three straight months.  Oklahoma's rate is 4.5%.

"Until we hit that Tier Two, they won't be eligible for any additional benefit," said Unemployment Insurance Director Jerry Pectol.

McMasters says he realized he hit rock bottom a few weeks ago when he went to the grocery store with only a few dollars to his name.

"I went up to the grocery store, and I had $18, it came out to $18 dollars. I only had $16. And, the guy there gave me $2, so that I could buy my groceries. And, it was so humiliating to me that I stood there in that line crying," said Jim McMasters.

After 40 years of full-time jobs, McMasters is facing homelessness at the end of the month.

The Unemployment Insurance Director Jerry Pectol says the state unemployment rate climbed 30% over the last 12 weeks.  He says the state could hit 6% unemployment in a few more months.