WASHINGTON — Rep. Shelley Berkley said Friday she plans to introduce a bill in September that would offer an additional tier of federal unemployment benefits to people who have been out of work so long they have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks allowed by current law.
Berkley said she will draft legislation during the monthlong House recess that began Friday.
She is considering payments for some length up to 13 additional weeks to the unemployed in states with jobless rates of 10 percent or higher.
That would cover Nevada, which had a nation-high 14.2 percent unemployment rate in June, plus 15 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In those states, "there are serious challenges and a serious lack of jobs," Berkley said. "I can do this or at least get the ball rolling."
Berkley’s announcement came several days after she was criticized by advocates for long-term unemployed who charged she was ducking the issue.
The Nevada Democrat had professed to support adding a "Tier 5" category of benefits to levels already funded by the government.
But initially she declined to sponsor a bill that might make it so.
Rob Curtis, a leader in the so-called "99er" movement that is active on the Internet and has been lobbying for long-term benefits, said he called Berkley’s office last week and was told by her chief of staff Richard Urey that the legislation would be "too tough to take on."
"This is the politician that wins the award for ‘Best Back Peddling,’ " Curtis wrote in a memo distributed to fellow activists. "We had better leave the easier stuff for her to handle, the safer stuff."
Berkley also was singled out by San Diego activist and blogger Donalee King, who posted the Nevadan’s picture on an online "wall of shame."
Berkley maintained her about-face was not the result of pressure. But she said the inquiries plus contacts from out-of-work Nevadans caused her to give the idea further thought.
She took the issue to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "and found there were other members that were feeling the same way I was that this has to be addressed."
In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement last weekend she was "working on a bill," but offered no details.
Contacted Friday, Curtis said activists are planning a lobbying blitz of Stabenow, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in an effort to get the Senate to act before it recesses next week.
"Given the challenging situation in Nevada, Reid would support providing unemployed workers with additional weeks of benefits until the economy recovers and businesses are once again hiring," Reid spokesman Tom Brede said in an e-mail.
Curtis, who said he was laid off in 2008 from a Southern California limousine manufacturing plant, said he still was not impressed with Berkley.
"Her proposition of doing it in September is too late," Curtis said. "She’s had time. She needed to do this when the House was in session."
The Department of Labor estimates more than 1.4 million people have been out of work beyond the cutoff to receive benefits. Given recent history, it appears a long shot that Congress would pass a new Tier 5 of benefits in the few weeks that remain in the 2010 session before the fall elections.
A bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits that already were authorized took longer than a month to get through Congress because of a fight between Democrats and Republicans over whether the $34 billion cost should be offset with spending cuts.
Those benefits expire on Nov. 30, and White House officials have said they expect Congress will be asked to extend them once again.
"Adding a fifth tier is going to be a challenge," Berkley said. "I am not kidding myself into thinking it is going to be a walk in the park."
what did sandoval say?
A response to a question about racial profiling has Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval on the defensive about his Hispanic heritage.
The only problem is that exactly what Sandoval said, how he said it and whether it was disparaging in any way is under dispute.
What is clear is because the partial quote in question touched on an exploitable wedge issue, the political outrage factory has the raw material it needs to work overtime cranking out umbrage.
The remark appeared in Spanish in an opinion column in the July 23 edition of the newspaper, El Tiempo. The column was written by Adriana Arevalo, news director for the Univision television station. El Tiempo is owned by Stephens Media, which also owns the Review-Journal.
Arevalo wrote that Sandoval, while at Univision, talked about his support for Arizona’s tough immigration law, SB 1070, and whether he would worry about his kids being subjected to racial profiling under the law. He said, "My children are not seen as Hispanics."
Political commentator Jon Ralston asked Sandoval about the quote during a segment that aired Wednesday. At first Sandoval denied saying it, then hedged and said he didn’t recall saying it.
Sandoval’s campaign later issued this statement: "I don’t remember saying it and it is most certainly not how I feel. If I did say those words, it was wrong and I sincerely regret it. I am proud of my heritage and my family."
Univision officials say the camera was rolling at the time but that the audio had been shut off because the interview had concluded.
Ralston reported Arevalo wasn’t present at the April interview but that Sandoval’s comment was relayed to her by people who were.
However, Arevalo wrote in her column that Sandoval made the comment "with a note of pride in his voice." She added that Sandoval doesn’t "understand what it means to be one of us in this country."
Univision officials have stood behind the comment as reported but also notified El Tiempo that the column may be discontinued.
A local journalism professor said the lack of context with the quote is reminiscent of a recent incident in which conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart used a snippet of racially charged language to generate a national controversy that unraveled when the entire story came to light.
"There are definitely parallels there on several levels," said Mary Hausch, an associate professor of journalism at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Sandoval’s political opponents are circulating their own interpretations.
The Democratic Governors Association accused Sandoval of making "insensitive and controversial comments about Hispanics." The Nevada State Democratic Party attacked Sandoval for making "shocking comments" and an "insensitive remark."
David Cohen, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, made the issue the subject of a campaign e-mail. Cohen used the English translation, "My children don’t look Hispanic," with emphasis on the word "my." He said it suggested Sandoval would continue "selfishness and insensitivity" in Carson City.
The liberal website DailyKos.com posted the column with a headline saying Sandoval said his kids "look white." DailyKos blogger Markos Moulitsas added: "But perhaps most telling to me, this is a tacit admission by a Republican of what the Arizona law is really all about. His kids don’t look Latino, so they have nothing to fear from SB 1070."
Salon.com’s War Room blog accused Sandoval of "incredibly insensitive comments about racial profiling followed by lies about those comments."
Sandoval supporters dispute the suggestion that Sandoval, who was born in New Mexico and moved to Northern Nevada as a child, is out of touch with his Hispanic heritage.
"Brian Sandoval is very proud of his heritage," said friend and supporter Tony Alamo Sr., who is also a member of the group Republicans for Harry Reid, father of Rory Reid.
Sandoval has said he supports Arizona’s law, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be right for Nevada. Unlike Arizona, Nevada doesn’t share a border with Mexico, he said.
Opinion polls show a majority of Nevada voters support the Arizona law. Alamo, a Hispanic immigrant, is a former executive at Mandalay Resort Group and supports the Arizona law.
"Frankly, the Arizona situation was getting way out of line in terms of crime and in terms of drugs and in terms of kidnapping," Alamo said. "I’m not betraying anybody."
Hausch said the quote in and of itself doesn’t prove much of anything.
"The larger issue is how he feels about the Arizona immigration law," she said. "I think we’re kind of losing sight of that with nuancing what his kids look like."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.POLITICAL EYE BLOG
• Adriana Arevalo opinion column
• English translation of El Tiempo column
• DailyKos column
• Salon.com War Room blog posting