BANGOR, Maine — Clergy members, community leaders, unemployed Mainers and area working families called for an extension of federal jobless benefits during a public forum Thursday at the Bangor Public Library.
The forum, facilitated by the Rev. Mark Doty of Hammond Street Congregational Church, stressed the importance of unemployment insurance for laid-off workers.
Congress is debating whether to continue an extended benefit program that was put in place during the recession and expires at the end of this year. The program provides up to 99 weeks of benefits in states with high unemployment rates. If the program isn’t continued, the Labor Department estimates that about 1.8 million people could lose benefits by early February.
Doty noted that one person in his congregation had applied for 400 jobs.
“Extension of unemployment benefits is a moral issue,” said the Rev. Becky Gunn of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bangor. “We need to take care of each other and should not let those who are not working go without the basics. Our current system does not offer enough jobs and as a result we need to offer support. Whether we are people of faith or not, it is our moral obligation to help others. There is greater need than ever.”
After the forum, many participants met with staff members from the Bangor offices of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
The forum was sponsored by Brewer-based Food AND Medicine, a group that works to aid laid-off workers, and the Eastern Maine Labor Council.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.