Local lawmaker holds discussion on employment issues during pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A local lawmaker held an interim study about on employment issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

State Representative Forrest Bennett says the pandemic has opened up a lot of problems, including healthcare, child care, and family and medical leave.

Bennett read through several messages from Oklahomans who say they’ve been struggling.

“I’ve had many sleepless nights of the choices I’ll have to make very soon,” one read.

“If I don’t have a job that will pay the bills in three months, I’ll have to give up my home. My children and I and my pets will be homeless,” another read.

Bennett says he’s looking to introduce legislation that would help relieve some of the issues.

“This is in the spaghetti-making phase and throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Bennett said.

Experts spoke at the meeting, highlighting the struggles of the people that represent.

“There are folks out there, working on an hourly basis, who we’re calling heroes and essential workers, who are working for $7.25 an hour, which is not livable. It’s not even close to livable,” Fitz Jennings with United Food and Commercial Workers said.

Others spoke about the need to expand family and medical leave.

“These are the workers that are working these low wage jobs. They’re our waitresses. They’re our fast food workers, they’re the people that need this the most and we’re covering the least,” Nicole Poindexter with the Oklahoma Policy Institute said.

A small business owner also shard her business journey and how hard it is to get a loan.

“We’re not afraid of hard work, I’m ready to work my finger to the bone to make this company work, but I don’t know how to get to that $8,000 when I still need to pay my bills and take care of my three children and keep my lights on,” Kelly Lisenbee, owner Bright Spot Bakery, said.

Bennett says he hopes the meeting will get the ball rolling for other members of the legislature to take action.

“Right now I’m just trying to introduce some ideas about how we can show the people of Oklahoma beyond symbolically that we see what’s going on and that we want to find some solutions,” he said.

He says he’s like to get someone on the other side of the aisle to cosponsor a bill with him.

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