WASHINGTON – For Monique Tossou, the financial pressures of daily life have continued, even when the rest of her life came grinding to a halt following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Those attacks shut down Reagan National Airport, where Tossou worked for Air Canada, which will not resume service when the airport reopens Thursday. Tossou’s paychecks stopped coming Sept. 24 and the benefits end Oct. 15.
In the meantime, she still has the mortgage on her Greenbelt home to worry about, along with tuition for her two sons, groceries and other bills.
“I’m just trying to find a solution. How am I going to go on with my life?” asked Tossou, who joined dozens of other unemployed airline workers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to ask Congress for help.
Congress last week swiftly approved $15 billion in aid for the nation’s airlines, which are reeling as a result of the terrorist attacks. Still, as many as 100,000 airline workers nationwide are expected to be laid off.
Some of those workers were in Washington Wednesday to back a proposal by Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., that would provide economic assistance, job training and health care benefits to laid-off airline workers. They were joined by lawmakers from Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The absence of Maryland lawmakers upset Tossou and laid-off coworker Joanna Baity of Hyattsville.
“A lot of people live in Maryland that work at National. Maryland is being impacted just as much as Virginia and DC,” said Baity, who said she has only heard Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, speak out in support of the jobless airline workers.
But Maryland lawmakers said they are aware of the problem and working on it, including Maryland Democratic Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, who are co-sponsors of Carnahan’s bill.
“The amount of legislation we’ve pumped through here in the past few weeks and what we’re working on certainly includes anybody who’s been laid off. We haven’t forgotten them,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
“We have passed a $15 billion bill to keep the airlines in business. If we didn’t do that, it’d be double or triple the number of people laid off,” Gilchrest said.
He is backing a House economic stimulus package that would pump money back into the economy as well as expand unemployment and health benefits. Aides said Morella supports Carnahan’s plan, while Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, is working on an unemployment compensation bill that would be broader in scope than Carnahan’s.
Tossou said she still wishes Maryland officials were more visible in their efforts, but for now, all she can do is wait.
She can see if her airline resumes business at Reagan or she can use her seniority to move elsewhere and bump another Air Canada employee out of a job. Or she can start looking for a new job in a tight market.
“Usually Washington’s employment section is very big, but this time there’s nothing at all,” Tossou said.
Meanwhile, she and Baity will apply for weekly unemployment checks of $260 and $280 respectively. Both said it will not be enough.
“We call each other and try to tell them not to worry, things will be OK, even though we don’t know if actually things will be OK,” Tossou said of her Air Canada colleagues. “That’s the only way we can go on with our lives.”