WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.– The Florida chapter of the Alliance of Retired Americans (ARA) called on Congress and the Bush administration last month to double the weeks of jobless benefits to 52 weeks and provide health insurance coverage under Medicare to all 8.3 million unemployed workers as the economic recession deepened.

The group, headed by former United Auto Worker leader Tony Fransetta, represents many thousands of retirees in the Sunshine State and is an affiliate of the newly established ARA, which was set up by the AFL-CIO to represent union retirees and others who share the goals of justice for senior citizens.

The Florida chapter unanimously approved a resolution calling for the expanded assistance to the unemployed when the group’s executive board met here Dec. 1. The resolution warned that the economic crisis is worsening with more and more layoffs. “Consumer purchasing power represents two-thirds of the country’s economic activity and growth and consumer demand is the key to economic recovery,” the resolution states.

Other demands include an increase in the minimum wage from the current $6.15 an hour to $10 an hour, a prescription drug plan under Medicare for the nation’s 45 million senior citizens and extension of Medicare health care protection to all jobless workers.

“We demand that Congress revamp the unjust Bush-Congress tax cut and give the major benefits to America’s working families,” it adds. It expressed support for HR-1564, legislation, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), to program billions for rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure, thus creating jobs for the growing numbers of unemployed.

Ruth Kushner, president of the Century Village ARA club, which submitted the resolution, said Florida has been hammered by the recession. “This is a tourist state and the tourist industry was hard hit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The airline industry, car rentals, hotels and motels, all are hurting,” she said. “A big Pratt & Whitney plant moved out of Florida. The plant where Motorola produces pagers has had big layoffs. It is also an agricultural state and the workers in that industry have also been hurt.”

It is an election year and the ARA is sending the resolution to at least 20 candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno, requesting meetings to discuss their position on the recession.