Unemployed woman welcomes return of benefits, fears future

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 21, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Rita Martinez of Las Vegas cashed in a $3,000 certificate of deposit last month and used the money to make her $870 mortgage payment.

"That was the last $3,000 I had to my name," Martinez said. "What I'm going to do after that, I don't know. But I don't want to lose my home. I've been here for 13 years."

A former business manager for an immigration law firm, Martinez, 57, was laid off in May 2009. Since then, her weekly $357 unemployment insurance check has helped her keep the utilities paid, food on the table and gas in her Chevy truck.

But after Congress failed to extend those benefits at the end of May, Martinez found herself without any income. As of July 16, more than 2.5 million long-term jobless Americans were in the same boat.

On Wednesday, as Congress prepares to pass legislation to restore those benefits, Martinez, was heartened, but said it will take at least a month for state officials to start generating the checks again.

"So you're talking about people going a full two or three months without any income whatsoever," she said.

She blames Republicans in Congress for delaying passage of the benefits extension.

"I'm pretty angry at what they're doing," she said of the recent filibuster. "I've worked all my life. I don't sit around and do drugs. You think I want to survive on $357 per month? They don't get it."

A divorced, single mother, Martinez has nearly exhausted her savings and has already emptied her Christmas Club account to make ends meet. Last year, she sold her car because she couldn't make the payments. She makes do in an old truck her father gave her.

Her ex-husband and parents help her buy groceries and pay other expenses, but she really needs a job.

Unfortunately, the unemployment rate is 14.5 percent in Las Vegas and there are 20 applicants for every job opening. Martinez said that for every 100 applications she puts out, she gets about four, maybe five, calls back. But once employers learn her age and realize she doesn't speak Spanish, most lose interest.

Like many unemployed Americans, she fears she may never work again.

"That does scare me because I know of lot of these jobs won't ever come back. But I'm not ready to retire. I'd love to be out there working. I'm not a stay-at-home kind of person," she said.

Looking for work in another state isn't an option either. Martinez's 20-year-old daughter is in cosmetology school and lives at home. Martinez also cares for her ailing parents.

Her 86-year-old mother has heart problems and her 81-year-old father has chronic bronchitis and emphysema. He recently fell in his backyard and broke some ribs and punctured a lung. Martinez visits often to help with yard work and to take him to the doctor.

As she continues to look for work, Martinez said, her greatest fear is losing her home. Several months ago, she applied to get her mortgage modified to a lower rate, but she hasn't heard about the status of her application.

"Every time I call, I get bounced around to 10 different people and they say, 'Oh, that's not my area, let me give you another number' or 'Talk to this person.' And every time, I get a different story. You never get a straight answer about anything."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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