Unemployment Benefits Battle Lost, But Not the War

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ends tomorrow, making for a very unhappy New Year for about 1.3 million jobless workers.

These are workers who qualify for unemployment insurance, but have been jobless longer than their regular state UI programs cover. Over the course of the year, an additional 3.5 million will be left in the lurch unless Congress belatedly renews the program.

And it’s going to be even harder for them to find work precisely because they won’t have nearly as much money to spend. Not that EUC benefits are generous, mind you — on average, only $289 a week now.

But without the spending they enable, the economy will have 240,000 fewer jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. The Economic Policy Institute puts the loss at 310,000 jobs.

The DOL/White House experts have produced estimates of the number of jobless workers affected for each state and the District of Columbia and also for job that would be saved.

So we learn that 18,200 jobless workers in the District will need and not have EUC benefits in the upcoming year. And there will be 993 fewer jobs than there would be if Congress passed an extension.

Not a happy prospect for a city where last month’s unemployment rate was 8.6% — and more than twice as high in Ward 8, which was in deep troubles long before the recession began.

The White House and Democrats in Congress will try again to get the EUC program extended. Republicans, at this point, don’t seem interested, though the National Journal cites a few exceptions, all but one of them hedged.

For some, there’s an ideological aversion to safety net programs — except perhaps those that are highly targeted and very short term.

Thus we have Senator Rand Paul explaining that extending EUC would be “a disservice” to jobless workers because “when you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks [as is no longer possible], you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

The larger sticking point, however, is the cost of the extension, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $25.2 billion, once the revenue boost is factored in.

House Speaker John Boehner has said he’ll consider an EUC extension plan “as long as it is paid for and … there are other efforts that will help get our economy going once again.” What those might be we’re left to guess.

Over on the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll try to get a vote on an extension bill on January 6 or 7. This would be a stopgap, three-month measure, without a pay-for. The Democrats claim, as they have in the past, that no offset is needed because the bill is emergency legislation, which, by definition, requires no offset.

Needless to say, getting enough Republicans to allow a substantive vote on the bill won’t be easy. Finding an offset may not be either, now that the budget deal has tapped some of the likely sources — or rather, finding an offset that Republicans will accept.

Americans for Tax Fairness notes that Congress could pay for the extension — and have lots of money left over — by closing just one corporate tax loophole.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And in this case, the will depends on what members of Congress are experiencing now that they’re home. Jobless workers in their faces. Stories on the evening news. Op-eds in hometown newspapers. Etc.

We need a big push now. And it’s a comfort to know that advocacy organizations are working hard on this.

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One Response to Unemployment Benefits Battle Lost, But Not the War

  1. […] at Republican Senators whom lead advocates had targeted as potential votes in favor of reviving the recently-expired Emergency Unemployment Compensation […]

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