December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Sheffield man to address U.S. House leaders on unemployment program

Errol Torres of Sheffield searched desperately for a job after he was fired as a flooring industry sales manager in June 2013.

His search proved difficult due to a non-compete agreement that he signed when he took the job nine months before. Torres, who said he wasn’t in a position to negotiate when he took the job after his business went bankrupt in 2012, said the agreement barred him from working with a competitor for two years.

Torres said that after applying for about 200 jobs during 10 months of unemployment, he remains unemployed. He has no income due to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ending on Dec. 28.

He hopes his testimony before Democratic House of Representative leaders today will persuade lawmakers to reinstate the program.

“There’s this perception that people who are long-term unemployed are lazy and abusing the system,” he said.

Torres said he hopes his story will resonate with House leaders. He will arrive in Washington, D.C., with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, a coalition working to extend the EUC program.

“We’ll be able to tell our story, answer any questions that they may have — just put a face to the story and not a number. I am not a number,” Torres said.

John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, said the stories he has heard from unemployed Americans have touched him. He said while it’s important to put a face to the numbers, the numbers are worth noting.

According to information from the Department of Labor and Council of Economic Advisors, about 128,600 Ohioans will exhaust unemployment benefits by the end of 2014 without the passage of a Senate bill, designed to extend EUC benefits retroactively from Dec. 28 until this month.

Dodds said more than 2 million Americans have lost access to assistance. He said he hopes that House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, who has opposed portions of the Senate bill, will bring the bill to the floor.

“We’re seeing that people have been looking really hard (for jobs). It’s very difficult for people to get employed after they’ve been unemployed for six months because employers think that’s some kind of character flaw,” Dodds said.

After six months of searching for a job, Torres stopped receiving state unemployment benefits. He received extended unemployment compensation from Dec. 17 until the program was halted Dec. 31.

Torres, who has a wife and six children, said he fears that he will have to move out of state to find a job. He’s already sold his house to the bank and borrowed money from his retired father.

He said his wife, a stay-at-home mother, has tried searching for a job to no avail.

“It’s been kind of hard for her, too. She’s been out of the workforce for 17 years,” he said.

He said he hopes that an extension of the EUC program will help others who are in a similar circumstance. He’s enrolled in school, taken self-employment and training programs, and although he acknowledges some people have abused the system, he said many more do need help.

“They continue to marginalize the group that I’m in, which is just offensive,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.