Show me the money!

Further proof that the national economic situation is worsening was unearthed Feb. 1, when the U.S. Department of Labor recorded 17,000 jobs lost nationwide in the month of January.

Gary Steinberg, press officer for the U.S. Labor Department, confirmed the figures and also noted a 4.9-percent unemployment rate for the month as well.

While Senate Democrats and Republicans battle and negotiate over an economic stimulus package proposed by President Bush, how much it should include and to whom it should be distributed has yet to be resolved.

Senate Democrats are pushing for an amended package of at least $158 billion that includes funds to be given to disabled veterans, senior citizens, and the unemployed.

Whereas many Senate Republicans backed the initial $145 billion package proposed in the House bill that would be a one-time deal for taxpayers.

Last Wednesday, the bill was blocked by the Senate Republicans in a 58-41 vote. Although many Republicans agreed to amend the bill to include benefits for veterans and seniors, they didn’t want to include benefits for the long-term unemployed.

According to published reports, the legislation could be passed in the Senate by next Tuesday before heading to the president for final approval.

The stimulus package, although not passed may be a tax credit of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples. It is something President Bush hopes will be a “shot in the arm” to the U.S. economy.

The funds are meant to benefit Americans who have limited their spending due to the increases in food and oil costs and those fearing a possible (if not already existing) recession.

According to one local Union City resident, Oscar Perez, “We’re already in a recession, and it’s only going to get worse.”

Yet, the most recent available data from the nation’s labor department notes Hudson County is one of three counties in New Jersey that hasn’t suffered a change in unemployment rates in a one-year time span – a compliment to the state in today’s economic context.

Despite that, the package might prove beneficial to economically-stricken residents throughout North Hudson who blame the recession on the crumbling housing market and continuing war in Iraq. Will locals spend their tax breaks on consumer goods and follow the president plan? Recently, members of the community spoke with the Reporter on the economic climate and how a stimulus package might affect them.

The worker

Sergio Portilla of West New York is the proprietor of his own bus under Community Line Service. Driving a daily bus route from Journal Square in Jersey City to Manhattan, he’s noticed a substantial decrease in volume. He blames the plunge on the increased numbers of people being fired from their jobs in New York.

“My customer [base] was reduced by almost 50 percent,” he said. He added, “The war [in Iraq] and the price of gas is really hurting the middle class. I used to work 14 hours, and now I have to work 18 hours to make less than what I was making before.”

Portilla was also quick to point to the increases in food costs.

“At the end of the week, I would spend $180 on two [shopping] carts full of food – now, I only get one.”

The business owner

Roberto Diaz, owner of Destinos Tours & Travels in Union City, has also been suffering due to the country’s economic crisis and hike in gas prices.

“The balance of personal income and cost of living is uneven,” said Diaz, adding, “We’re not at the peak of a recession, but we’re definitely at the beginning stage.”

Diaz attributes the 50-percent drop in travel sales to gas hikes and traveling as a commodity. When asked how an economic stimulus package would benefit the economy, Diaz said, “If we cut war costs, I would believe [an economic revival] … The package is a very simplistic measure to fix the economy; $600 is candy being given away to people, and the government is giving it away in every sense of the word.”

The retiree

Local resident and Cuban-American Carlota Barreda has been in the U.S. for 41 years, and she has no fears of an impending recession.

“It’s not the first time the U.S. economy has been bad,” she said, while shopping at the local Union City Pathmark. She added, “It’s exaggerated, and it’s propaganda. It’s all politics.”

When asked how the economic stimulus package would affect the economy, she said, “A lot of people would benefit from it.”

Barreda added, “[The government] should only award it to taxpayers. They shouldn’t give it to people who don’t pay taxes and break the laws in the U.S.”

When asked what she would do with the stimulus funds, Barreda responded, “Go to Texas to see my grandchildren.”

The family

Alma Campos together with her husband, Jesus Campos, have owned Biggies Mexican Restaurant on Bergenline Avenue for eight years.

“We’ve always had loyal customers, but we’ve seen at least a 35-percent decrease in numbers,” said Alma on the local effects of the crumbling economy.

“Economists say there are many factors in order to achieve ‘recession’ status, but we’re definitely on our way,” she said, noting that too much money is being spent on an “endless war.”

“[The government’s focus on] the war abandoned internal problems in the country,” she said.

Alma Campos attributed the dip in sales to hiked food costs.

“The prices of meat, vegetables, oil, and milk are ridiculous,” said Alma, adding, “We used to have a $1,000 [weekly] food budget three years ago, and today [with less sales], we’re spending the same.”

With mortgage payments and private tuition costs for their children, Alma expressed her concerns regarding a possible tax credit.

“I don’t know how it’s going to help us, and if it does, it won’t be much,” she said.

Nicolas Millan can be reached at


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