This year, Republicans in the Legislature have been sidetracked from the important issues Arizonans want addressed.
Improving our state's economy, creating jobs and making sure every kid has access to a great education were not high on the agenda. Instead, Republicans promoted legislation creating an official state gun, requiring presidential candidates to show proof of citizenship to Arizona authorities and creating a tea party license plate. None of these bills entices businesses to move to Arizona, creates jobs or helps children learn.
What legislative Republicans also failed to do is make a simple, one-word change in state law that, unless the Legislature acts quickly, will deny 15,000 Arizonans benefits from a system that they have paid into. If the Republican leadership at the Legislature doesn't act on this immediately, many jobless Arizonans, people who have worked previously, will not receive their unemployment checks this week.
Benefits are a maximum of $240 per week for Arizona's unemployed. Without this one-word change, not only will 15,000 Arizonans not get their checks, our state's faltering economy will lose about $3.2 million per week. This number of people not receiving checks will grow over time, forcing unemployed Arizonans to go without much-needed support from a system they've funded and depriving the state's economy of millions more.
These dollars come from the federal government, from a pot of money that Arizona workers have paid into for years.
Unemployment benefits are available for 99 weeks by federal rule. The last 20 weeks are paid by the feds as long as states meet certain requirements, which we no longer meet because of the Republican Legislature's failure to act.
Arizona is only one of a few states that has failed to change its law to assist the long-term unemployed. While other states in the same situation passed bipartisan legislation to help their citizens through this recession, a Republican legislative leader recently called such a change "stupid." What's stupid is denying benefits to people who have paid into the system for their entire career and depriving our state's economy of millions of dollars.
As legislators, our job is to make Arizona a better place for everyone. Rather than wasting time and taxpayer money on issues that do nothing to better our state, we need to step up to the plate and do what's best for our people. This is especially true when doing so will help struggling citizens and our struggling economy. That is a win-win for the citizens of Arizona and Republicans need to join Democrats in the Legislature and put their constituents ahead of their ideology to fix this problem.
• David Schapira is the Arizona Senate Minority Leader and a Democrat from District 17.