Chiquita Allison is a school bus driver who has not collected a paycheck in months.
Allison's checks stop at the end of each school year. She doesn't know if or when she will be rehired.
Unemployment benefits used to fill those lean summers, but earlier this year the State Labor Department earlier stopped paying jobless benefits to seasonal workers like Allison, eliminating what many used as a lifeline for the last 30 years.
"It's hard to provide food for home," Allison said. "I had to stop daycare for my infant and that's very difficult."
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler has said public-school teachers cannot collect unemployment so seasonal workers, like private-school teachers, school-bus drivers and cafeteria workers, should play by the same rules.
"What we just tried to do is make sure we were treating everybody the same because these people are doing the exact same job," Butler said. "If you take a job that's contracted out for 10 months, you have to make allowances for the fact that you will not be collecting a check for two months. There's also temporary summer jobs out there."
State Rep. Virgil Fludd, who heads the Working Families Caucus, which along with the Legislative Black Caucus, demanded that Butler to reinstate jobless benefits for those seasonal workers.
"It's unfair, it's unjust and it's unwarranted," Fludd said.
When asked why seasonal workers should be allowed to collect unemployment benefits when a public-school teacher cannot, Fludd answered, "public school teachers have the option for a 9-month plan or a full year."
Fludd said that many of the workers draw only minimum wage and have a tough time finding summer jobs in the middle of the worst economy we've seen in generations.
"Part of the reason they take these jobs is the understanding they'll be allowed to get unemployment when they are not working," Fludd said.
Butler said those workers should budget better or find summer jobs.
Allison said that without her unemployment, it is difficult to find money to drive around and search for work.
"It's hard to get around to even look for a job. If you don't have money, you can't even put gas in your car to go look for a job."
The Federal Labor Department has requested Butler reverse his decision.
Butler shot back a response, stating that Georgia code mandates school-based seasonal employees "shall not be paid during periods of unemployment."
The labor commissioner has said that he is trying to save taxpayers' money.
But Fludd noted that employers pay for the unemployment benefits, not taxpayers.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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