Retiree Offers Budget Help To California

Over the holidays, many people give more thought to giving — and one man is giving back to his home state. Retiree Dennis Ferguson tells Michel Martin that he wrote a $10,000 check to California to offset unemployment insurance he received in 1964.

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Now we turn from tax tips to a story about giving.

Now, over the holidays many people give more thought to giving, especially to those in need. Well, one man has decided to give back to the State of California in its moment of need.

Retiree, Dennis Ferguson, recently wrote a $10,000 check to help fill the state's massive budget deficit. He says he was just repaying the state for the unemployment insurance he collected back in 1964 that helped him get back on his feet.

And Mr. Ferguson is with us now. Welcome, thank you for joining us, and happy holidays.

Mr. DENNIS FERGUSON (Retiree, California): Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, a lot of people have collected unemployment over the years, but we're not really sure we've ever heard a story like this, so can I just ask you what gave you the idea?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I, you know, I was out of work and it made it possible for me to go to this computer school and I thought that I'd have to still be looking for work, and the school said, no, we'll sign your slip so that you don't have to be looking for work. So I could go to school and collect unemployment at the same time, and it really made a big difference in my life.

MARTIN: You had been at Douglas Aircraft.

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, yeah. Actually, there was another job in-between, but that's really not too important.

MARTIN: Okay. But you had been laid off; would that be accurate to say?

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: You had been laid off from the job.

Mr. FERGUSON: The defense industry had ups and downs and, you know, there'd be like a lot of hiring and then a lot of layoffs. So, you know, it was in one of those layoff periods.

MARTIN: And so you were able to go to school full-time, and that allowed you to transition into the career that you pursued for many years?

Mr. FERGUSON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Well, what gave you the idea to give California the money back?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I was totally grateful for what they did, and I had, you know, a sense of responsibility maybe to give something back. I had thought about it for awhile, but it just occurred to me that, you know, when I did send the check that it was a good time to do it.

MARTIN: Did you expect the kind of attention that you have gotten as a result?

Mr. FERGUSON: No. I thought there'd be an article in the Sacramento papers or something like that, you know, but I guess it got released to the AP and I was away for Thanksgiving, and I got back and my telephone recording was full. There was like 25 calls, and then, you know, it wouldn't take any more.

MARTIN: What do you make of the reaction that your story has sparked?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I guess it resonated because so many people are unemployed and, like, I'm sort of a success story, but even though it was rough for me at that time, I think that today it's even worse. The demand for programmers after you have some experience, there was a lot of demand at that time. Now, you know, a lot of that stuff's overseas and outsource it.

MARTIN: You know, there are those who would say though that, you know, that money was owed to you in a way because people pay unemployment insurance for precisely - so you had no obligation to give it back. It wasn't an obligation on your part though, it was a gift. Would that be - I mean, I'm just wondering did you feel about it?

Mr. FERGUSON: I mean, I felt that it, you know, something I just wanted to do because it made such a big difference in my life. And I think that anybody else that gets some help from a government and it makes a big difference in their life, and later on they're comfortable and everything else, you know, why not give back a little bit.

MARTIN: Do you think that other people might follow your lead?

Mr. FERGUSON: I would hope so, you know, that's why I'm doing this.

MARTIN: Well, how do you feel, now that you've had a couple days to think about it? You still feel like it was the right thing to do?

Mr. FERGUSON: Absolutely. I mean, you know, I'm not going to miss this money. It's not a big deal to me. I'm fairly frugal and I could have spent that anyway on something else, but I just had a sense of obligation and appreciation that I could collect unemployment while I was going to school. That was so terrific.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, Dennis Ferguson is a resident of South Carolina. He recently gave $10,000 to the state of California in gratitude, as he just told us, for the help he received when he was unemployed back in the 1960's, and he was kind enough to join us from member station WFEH in Savannah, Georgia.

Thank you so much for joining us, and happy holidays once again.

Mr. FERGUSON: Thank you, and the same to you.

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