“Endless Weeks of False Hope and Promises,” As Jobless Workers Grow Desperate Without Unemployment Benefits

June 18, 2014

A fellow District of Columbia resident writes, “Where to start … the abrupt termination of emergency benefits, or the endless weeks of false hope and promises.

“I have no money to get to interviews…. I also have no money for phone, no money to even keep up my personal hygiene. For over 11 years, I was steadily employed at $40K-$55K, and now I’m soon to be homeless.”

This is one of well over 2,000 stories that struggling jobless workers have shared with the Center for Effective Government.

They speak of selling belongings, including a wedding ring. They speak of living without hot water, having electricity, phone service and/or internet connections cut off — of actually becoming homeless.

And they speak of ongoing, frustrating efforts to find employment — any job at all, some say, though like my fellow District resident, many used to earn a comfortable living.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner has run the clock out on the stop-gap bill to renew Emergency Unemployment Compensation that the Senate passed in early April.

The bill covered five months of EUC benefits, back-dated to when they expired at the end of last year. So the benefits it provided would have ended more than three weeks ago.

Supporters had hoped that the bill would buy time for negotiations on a further extension. Surely justified. Notwithstanding newsworthy job growth, there are still nearly 3.4 million people who’ve been job-seeking for more than 27 weeks.

Only two state unemployment insurance programs provide benefits for this long — and none for much longer.

So at this point, more than 3 million have lost their unemployment benefits since EUC expired, as the counter House Ways and Means Democrats have posted. Look at the numbers roll — about one more worker cut off every 8 seconds, 72,000 or so a week.

Well, I don’t suppose I need to convince you of the mounting crisis — not only for jobless workers themselves, but for their families.

The question is, what will convince Speaker Boehner to let the House vote on an EUC bill? Not apparently some bipartisan job-creating measures to go with it, since he shrugged off the Secretary of Labor’s invitation to discuss what those might be.

The campaign I wrote about earlier hasn’t let up. We’ve been tweeting House Republicans weekly, urging them to tell their leader it’s time — past time actually — for a vote.

Not only the Center for Effective Government, but House Ways and Means Democrats have been collecting stories — many begging Congress for help.

Last Wednesday marked a new phase in the campaign — the first of what will be seven weekly events on the grassy triangle in front of the House side of the Capitol.

Witness Wednesdays they’re called because they center on readings of stories collected — all participants bearing witness to the suffering of our fellow Americans, who, as one of them says, are “swimming as hard as … [they] can, yet … still drowning.”

I joined the crowd for the first event. It was a heart-wrenching — and at the same time, rousing — experience, as you can see.

Thankfully, the organizers and the many other groups supporting the cause aren’t counting on touching Boehner’s heart — or if you prefer, pricking his conscience. Nor, I think, are they counting on pressure from his colleagues to get a standalone bill on the floor.

We perhaps see a glimpse of the Democrats’ strategy in a recent donnybrook in the Senate. Senator Jack Reed, who’d partnered with Senator Dean Heller to negotiate the five-month EUC bill, planned to attach a year-long renewal to the bill extending expiring tax breaks.

Republicans blocked a substantive vote on the bill because House Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t allow them to add amendments.

But the tax extender bill is one of those so-called must-pass pieces of legislation. And there are others — a bill of some sort to avert a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year, for example, and another to keep funds flowing to road and public transit projects.

So we may see an EUC extension after all. Senators Reed and Heller are reportedly working on a new bill — this time, prospective only. No compensation for benefits already lost, though that might avert some further emergencies.

The challenge again is to find an offset that would satisfy most Democrats and enough Republicans to get the bill — or amendment — passed.

Because we know that Senate Republicans, as well as their House counterparts, will insist the benefits be fully paid for though they’re willing enough to extend tax breaks with no offset whatever.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking — and the number of jobless workers with no source of cash income rising. Members of Congress will go home in about six weeks and stay there until after Labor Day.

So even if EUC is ultimately resurrected, jobless workers who’ve already said they’re facing foreclosure or eviction may be homeless. And who knows how many more will find their job searches frustrated because they can’t afford gas or public transportation to get to interviews?

This is all so pathetically unnecessary. No wonder that two-thirds of American voters have a higher opinion of lice than of Congress.


Census Bureau Reports 16.1% Poverty Rate

November 15, 2012

Another round of news on poverty in the U.S. — this time from the Census Bureau’s latest report on the results of analyses using its Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Once again, the national poverty rate is higher than the rate the Bureau earlier reported, using its official measure — 16.1%, as compared to 15.1%.

In other words, about 3 million more people — a total of nearly 49.7 million — were living in poverty last year.

On the other hand, the percent of people living in extreme poverty, i.e., below 50% of the applicable threshold, is 1.5% lower than the official measure shows.

We get a mixed picture for state-level poverty rates, for which the Bureau uses three-year averages. Some of the rates are higher than the official rate. Some lower.

The rate for the District of Columbia rises sharply — from 19% to 23.2%. This is higher than the rate for any state except California.

As I’ve written before, the official measure sets poverty thresholds at three times the annually adjusted costs of what used to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s cheapest food plan.

The SPM starts from the costs of basic living expenses, adjusted for differences among major geographic areas and also differences in living situations, e.g., renting versus owning.

To these, it adds some other “necessary expenses,” e.g., payroll taxes, health care co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs.

On the other side of the ledger, it takes account of not only cash income, but some “near-money” federal benefits like tax credits and also some in-kind benefits, e.g., food stamps, two forms of child nutrition assistance, housing subsidies.

And it uses actual household size, rather than counting only household members who are related to one another, as the official measure does.

These differences explain not only the difference between the overall SPM rate and the official rate, but shifts in rates for different age and race/ethnicity groups.

We see, for example, that:

  • The child poverty rate drops from 22.3% to 18.1%, reducing the number of children in poverty by about 3 million.
  • The poverty rate for seniors rises from 8.7% to 15.1%, increasing the number of poor people 65 and older by somewhat more than 2.6 million.
  • The poverty rate for blacks drops from 27.8% to 25.7% — still far higher than the non-Hispanic white rate of 11%, but now 2.3% lower than the rate for Hispanics.
  • The poverty rate for Asians rises from 12.3% to 16.9% — the largest percent change for any race/ethnicity group reported.
  • For children, the extreme poverty rate is less than half what it is under the official measure — 5.1%, as compared to 10.3%.
  • For seniors, however, the extreme poverty rate rises — from 2.3% to 4.3%.

This year’s report is unusually timely because it gives us a read on the anti-poverty effects of some benefits that are at immediate risk. It tells us that:

  • Food stamp benefits lifted more than 4.6 million people, including  about 2.1 million children, out of poverty last year.
  • Well over 8.6 million more people, including nearly 4.7 million children, would have fallen below the poverty threshold if their family’s disposable income hadn’t been boosted by refundable tax credits.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits kept nearly 3.4 million people out of poverty — mostly adults, but about 963,400 children too.
  • And Social Security — the single most effective anti-poverty program we’ve got — accounted for 25.6 million fewer poor people than there would have been without its benefits. Poverty rates for all age groups would have been higher. The rate for seniors would have soared to 54.1%.

So there are the benefits. Now here are the risks.

The farm bills now pending in Congress would cut food stamp benefits for at least half a million households — 1.3 million if the House version prevails. The House bill would also mean no more food stamps at all for as many as 3 million people.

As you’re well aware, the Bush-era tax cuts are expiring. We can be quite confident that most will be renewed.

But Congressional Republicans want to extend earlier versions of the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, not the expanded versions that have made a significant difference to low-income working families.

The federal program that funds unemployment insurance benefits for longer-term jobless workers will also soon expire. Some two million workers and their families may face the new year with no source of cash income.

Lead Republicans in Congress are about to sit at the bargaining table with their Democratic counterparts and White House officials to thrash out an alternative to the so-called fiscal cliff.

They say they’ll be amenable to increased revenues (not to be confused with higher tax rates for the wealthiest 2%).

But the deal must also include “real changes to the financial structure of entitlement programs” — apparently something along the lines of the recommendations in the plan produced by the co-chairs of the President’s fiscal commission, a.k.a. Bowles-Simpson.

These recommendations would cut Social Security retirement benefits in several different ways. With the average benefit now only $1,230 a month, we could see more seniors in poverty if the Democrats don’t hold firm to the position they’re taking now.

NOTE: A couple of the benefits impact figures reported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are a bit higher than mine. This is also true for figures reported by the Center for American Progress. I’m at a loss to explain the discrepancies.


Extending Unemployment Benefits Won’t Help All Jobless Workers

August 24, 2012

Looking back on my post about the expiring federal unemployment insurance benefits, I realized I’d left out important parts of the picture.

One is the growing number of workers who’ve been jobless more than 99 weeks — longer than the maximum for benefits even when both federal programs were in full force.

The other is that lots of workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own can’t get UI benefits at all.

In 2010, for example, only 44% of these workers got any benefits from their state programs, according to a recent brief from the Urban Institute.

The brief documents what we probably would have guessed. A very high percentage of the left-out workers are “disadvantaged,” e.g., blacks and Hispanics, single mothers, teens and young adults.

Both blacks and Hispanics are also unusually likely to be among the long-term unemployed, another Institute brief tells us.

We know from other sources that single mothers were far more likely to be jobless and actively looking for work last year than married mothers — or the labor force as a whole. This was also true for the 16-24 year old age group.

The disadvantaged workers are less likely than others to get UI benefits because states have eligibility rules that tend to exclude them.

These, in some cases, are related to the workers’ disadvantages in the labor market.

Virtually all states, for example, have minimum earnings requirements. The time period they use varies, but the earnings threshold will always disadvantage low-wage workers whose jobs weren’t ongoing and full-time.

Workers who got jobs through temporary agencies are often out of luck — even if they put in a full day, every day.

Only 22 states will provide benefits for workers who have to quit for reasons most of us would find compelling, i.e., domestic violence, the need to care for a sick or disabled family member.*

Not surprisingly, single mothers seem to fall into this group, though the Institute’s report isn’t altogether clear on this.

Many are also left out in the 23 states that won’t provide benefits for workers who are looking for a new job that isn’t full time. We know anecdotally that single mothers may have no alternative because they can’t afford the high costs of child care.

The Recovery Act gave states a financial incentive to eliminate such barriers in their UI programs.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia adopted the first and only partial payment option — or already had it on the books.

But only 34 states and the District took the minimum three actions that netted them the full amount they could receive.

Just one and the District went for the fully battery. Still barriers for disadvantaged workers in both jurisdictions, however.

Some states have since tightened up their requirements — this rather than raise the imprudently low UI taxes they’d decided to collect from employers.

The end result is a patchwork of coverage.

But there are only five states in which more than half of all jobless workers got UI benefits in 2010. And only one — Alaska — where the rate topped 60%.

* Eleven other states will provide benefits for workers who quit because of domestic violence, but not because of a family member’s illness or disability.


Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Saved, But Scaled Back

February 17, 2012

So the Republicans and Democrats agreed on a deal to extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits — defying predictions of another cliffhanger or worse.

Also extended, as you’ve probably read, were the employee payroll tax cut and the “doc fix” to avert huge cuts in Medicare reimbursements. As you may not have read, some programs for low-income people got a new, temporary lease on life as well.

The UI benefits extension is surely good news for the million or so jobless workers who’d otherwise have lost their benefits in March. Also good news for jobless workers who’d have run through their regular state benefits by year’s end.

No extension would have meant benefits losses for nearly 4.5 million by December — 12,600 in the District of Columbia alone.

Add to the good news column some changes in the UI program that didn’t get into the deal — or survived only in more palatable forms.

The most problematic would have denied benefits to jobless workers without a high school diploma or the equivalent unless they were enrolled in classes leading to same. There’s no such barrier in the final bill.

But (why is there always a but?) the well-known 99 maximum weeks will soon be a thing of the past.

As I wrote awhile ago, the Extended Benefits program kicks in only when states’ unemployment rates are higher than they were during a comparable period in a prior year — and kicks off when they aren’t.

Because Congress didn’t change the law to let states shift their comparison period back, more and more states will “trigger off” EB. The expectation now is that no state — or the District — will be able to offer the final 10 or 20 weeks of benefits by December.

Because Congress did change the law, fewer weeks of benefits will be available under the other federally-funded program — Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

EUC benefits kick in directly after workers have exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits. They’re structured in tiers.

At this point, the first two are available to all jobless workers, giving them a maximum of 34 weeks — less only if they find employment.

Workers qualify for the next tier only if they live in states where the unemployment rate is at least 6%. That nets them 13 more weeks.

If they live in states where the unemployment rate is at least 8.5%, they can move to a fourth tier and get another 6 weeks.

The total then for workers in most states has been 79 weeks — counting the weeks available in their regular state program, but not EB.

The extensions legislation cuts the maximum number of weeks to 73, beginning in September. From June through August, the maximum will remain 79 weeks, but only in states where the unemployment rate is at least 9%.

At the same time, the legislation establishes a minimum 6% unemployment rate for the second tier. And it raises the minimum unemployment rates by half a percent for the remaining tiers.

As of September, the third tier becomes four weeks shorter and the fourth, final tier four weeks longer.

Bottom line is that, as of September, only 63 weeks will be available in most states. At this point, jobless workers have more weeks available in all but seven.

I suppose we should be grateful. The Republicans reportedly wanted to cap benefits at 59 weeks, as the original House bill would have.

So the Democrats got more than a strict split-the-difference deal, though only because they’d already followed the Obama administration’s lead in letting states trigger off while their unemployment rates remain abnormally high.

Even here, they negotiated a temporary fix, giving states with unemployment rates of at least 8.5% an additional 10 weeks of EUC if they’ve no EB weeks to provide. The boost is good only through May, however.

Huffington Post blogger Arthur Delaney reports that it will benefit jobless workers in at least 10 states.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note another Democrat victory here. The estimated $30 billion the UI benefits extension will cost won’t be offset by any tampering with the Child Tax Credit.

If House Republicans had had their way, refunds that help support more than five million low-income children would have been part of the pay-for.

So it’s not a perfect deal. But a deal got made. And it’s a whole lot better than the extension the House passed in December.

UPDATE: After I (hastily) posted this, I found that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities had created two tables that lay out the changes in the EUC program and the total weeks of benefits that will be available, with and without EB. A clearer picture of the complex end results than my prose could manage.


House GOP Has Radical Agenda For Unemployment Insurance

December 14, 2011

I guess you’ve read by now that the House Republican majority (with help from some Democrats) has passed a bill that would extend federal unemployment insurance benefits.

Sort of. Jobless workers couldn’t get them for as long as they can now. Nor could all jobless workers now eligible get them.

The benefits cuts have gotten the most attention. The other so-called reforms deserve more because they’d effectively change the very nature of unemployment insurance.

Perhaps this is all a not-to-worry.

The UI benefits provisions are bundled together with a bunch of other measures, including some that ensure the bill won’t become law — even if the Senate passed it, which it won’t.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pronounced it dead on arrival. “The wrong side of ridiculous,” he said, referring specifically to the UI changes.

This by no means ensures a clean extension. Reid doesn’t have enough Democrats to overcome a potential Republican filibuster threat. Many House Republicans would probably balk.

Yet Congress is in a hurry to wrap up business so members can go home for the holidays.

All but some of the diehard Tea Party types don’t want to face constituents who’ll lose their benefits — or their payroll tax cut, which the House bill would also extend.

So lots of hurried compromising may go on behind closed doors.

Here then are some thoughts on what might seem one of the less divisive UI reform provisions — a novel “participation in reemployment services” qualification.

At this point, states decide who should be eligible for UI benefits, though they’ve got some federal guidelines to follow. Rules relate strictly to immediate past and future legal employment.

The House bill establishes an unprecedented requirement based on the type of work an applicant could qualify for.

Specifically, no one could receive UI benefits unless he/she had a high school diploma or an equivalent like the GED or, if not, was “enrolled and making satisfactory progress in classes leading toward the satisfaction” of the minimum education requirement.

Jeff Carter, the Acting Director and President of the D.C. Learns, attacks this provision from several perspectives.

Briefly, he notes the large number of jobless workers who’d be affected — a goodly, though unknown number of the more than 1.5 million who are actively looking for work without the credential now. More, of course, as time goes on.

He then argues persuasively that the requirement will effectively deny unemployment benefits to a large percent of these workers. There are already long waiting lists for adult education classes, he says.

And like as not, many affected workers don’t have the basic literacy skills to do the work GED preparation classes require. Nor is it clear that those who do should be enrolled in these classes anyway, since there are other ways to get up to speed for the exams.

“Perhaps,” Jeff says, “it [the education provision] was a misguided attempt to provide an incentive to those lacking a high school diploma.”

I wouldn’t altogether rule this out. But we can make other inferences from the predicable results.

Perhaps, for example, the House Republicans hope to cut program costs by erecting new barriers to enrollment.

Whether or no, their bill suggests something more radical than that.

Basically, the education requirement would convert an insurance program to a welfare program — a source of cash assistance contingent on what the drafters seem to view as preparation for work.

Lest we doubt the intent here, the bill also authorizes drug tests for applicants — something state policymakers have already seized on to screen out applicants for public benefits.

And it denies UI benefits to millionaires — or so the Republicans say.

If I understand what the bill says correctly, it actually takes back all or some portion of the benefits paid to high-income taxpayers, including those filing jointly who had no taxable income of their own.

This is not, as it might seem, just a gesture to us 99%. And, as the Political Correction blog notes, it’s not really a cost-saving measure either.

Rather, the “millionaire” exclusion establishes a means test for unemployment compensation — another feature of public assistance programs.

All these welfare-like provisions are, to my mind, an entering wedge for further attacks on the UI program. Because what they say is that we’ve got waste in it — people getting benefits who don’t need or deserve them.

Once you start down that road, you end up … Well, I don’t know where. But with something that’s assuredly not the straightforward insurance program Congress created nearly 80 years ago.


New Jobs Figures Show Need To Extend Long-Term Unemployment Benefits

October 13, 2011

Another month, another bad jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’ve probably already read the top-line figures, but maybe not all these.

The unemployment rate is still stuck at 9.1%. Nearly 14 million people officially unemployed last month — about the same as in August.

An additional 1 million who looked for work during the past 12 months but gave up because they felt it was futile. Presumably lots who gave up earlier and so didn’t get counted as “discouraged.”

More than 6.2 million who’d been looking for at least 27 weeks, i.e., long enough to have exhausted their regular state unemployment insurance benefits — if they every qualified. This is a higher number than reported for either July or August.

A new brief from the National Employment Law Project tells us that jobless workers today face an average of somewhat over 36 weeks of unemployment. This figure is also higher than last month’s.

Not much hope for these people in the new jobs data. A total of 103,000 more people on non-farm payrolls than in August.

But about 45,000 of them were striking Verizon employees who’d returned to work. Discounting them, the private sector created roughly 92,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, the public sector shed an additional 34,000, bringing the total to more than half a million since September 2008.

Thus, the economy actually created about 58,000 jobs last month. NELP reports that it would need to create, on average, 400,000 per month to bring the unemployment rate back down to its pre-recession level in the next three years.

One might think that these dismal figures would prompt a substantial majority in Congress to vote for some targeted investments in job creation. But only if one had been living on another planet for the last two years.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has announced that the President’s jobs bill won’t even come up for a vote. But Republicans may pick out parts they agree with, he said.

Same seems to be the case in the Senate, where Republicans, joined by two Democrats, just blocked a vote on the bill.

Surely, one would think, they could agree to extend the federal programs that provide long-term jobless workers with some extra weeks of UI benefits.

One of them — Emergency Unemployment Compensation — is due to expire at the end of the year.

The other — Extended Benefits — will lose full federal funding. These benefits kick in after EUC benefits have been exhausted. So those receiving EUC benefits now will be shut out of the EB program unless Congress acts. Those who’ve already gotten to the EB phase will lose their benefits in January.

NELP estimates that nearly 1.8 million workers will lose their benefits by February. By the end of the year, the number will swell to at least six million.

As I’ve written more often than I wish I’d had to, UI benefits are one of the best quick-acting stimulus options we’ve got. According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, every $1.00 spent delivers as much as $1.90 in economic growth and employment.

Take the expanded benefits away and you can expect job losses. The Economic Policy Institute puts the 2012 figure for EUC alone at 528,000.

But the House Republican leadership finds potential common ground with the President only in certain UI reforms, not in the proposed extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“More federal spending,” their memo says. If that were the answer, adds House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), then the economic stimulus package would have kept the unemployment rate below 8%.

What’s needed are cuts in spending, taxes and those dreadful government regulations that are supposed to do things like prevent a repeat of the reckless financial transactions that helped land us in this mess to begin with.

So it looks as if we’re in for yet another donnybrook. And yet another round of made-up reasons for letting the extended UI benefits die.

Speaker Boehner’s argument is one of them, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows.

And then there’s this old warhorse trotted out by Congressman James Renacci (R-OH): “[T]he length of compensation eligibility has turned from a bridge between jobs into an excuse to put off that job search for just one more week.”

As if people who’ve been laid off just kick back when their benefits average $296 a week — much less for low-wage workers, of course.

In any event, as Renacci should know, you can’t get UI benefits unless you’re actively searching for work. And, at this point, there’s only one job for every four people looking.

Pushing more people into poverty faster isn’t going to change that.

UPDATE: BLS has just released the results of its Jobs and Labor Turnover Survey for August. EPI economist Heidi Shierholz, my source for JOLTS analyses, reports that the ratio is now one job for every 4.6 jobless workers actively looking.


More Than 2 Million Jobless Workers May Lose Unemployment Benefits Next Month

November 26, 2010

As you may recall, in late July, the Senate finally managed to pass the latest extension of the two related programs that fund expanded unemployment insurance benefits. Now the programs are again about to expire. And prospects for renewal are even more uncertain.

The prior extension got hung up because the Republicans insisted that it be paid for. But, of course, they wouldn’t have accepted a tax increase offset. We know this because they had no end of objections when a larger bill that included the UI benefits extension had a pay-for that would have closed a couple of costly tax loopholes.

During the stalemate, about 2.5 million jobless workers lost their UI benefits. These were restored retroactively, though at a reduced rate. A better thing than no extension at all. But what it meant was that the six-month extension actually funded future benefits for less than five months.

So here we are again, with expanded unemployment benefits due to expire on December 1. Congress reconvened for one post-election week, then went home for a longer Thanksgiving break than most of us enjoy. That leaves perhaps just one voting day before the benefits expire.

We can expect another donnybrook over the pay-for issue — maybe even over the principle of a further extension. There are, after all, some members of Congress — Senator Jon Kyl, for example — who maintain that UI benefits deter jobless workers from seeking employment.

So what will happen if Congress ends this session without approving another extension?

The National Employment Law Project reports that more than two million jobless workers will lose their benefits during the holiday season — about 800,000 of them on December 4. The number will swell to nearly five million in the next couple of months.

And go on swelling as more and more workers exhaust the benefits available through their regular state UI programs. In all but a few states, the maximum is 26 weeks.

As of October, jobless workers who were actively seeking employment had been looking for an average of nearly 40 weeks — nearly three and a half months more than most regular state UI benefits cover. Nearly 42% had been looking for more than 27 weeks.

And no wonder when, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of the latest U.S. Labor Department Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey results, there are five job seekers for every job opening.

Here in the District, 8,017 jobless workers will lose their UI benefits before the end of December. More than 3,300 of them will be cut off immediately. The remainder will either lose some of the additional weeks they would have qualified for or exhaust their regular 26 weeks, with no federally-funded lifeline beyond.

Views across our borders are equally dismal. In Maryland, 13,915 jobless workers and their families may face the holidays with no source of income. In Virginia, the total facing a December cut-off is 30,871.

We can expect the Republicans — maybe some Democrats too — to argue that any extension of expanded UI benefits must be fully paid for because we can’t afford to add to the deficit.

Well, EPI estimates that extending the expanded UI benefits for a year will create the equivalent of 723,000 jobs. This because recipients will immediately spend most, if not all of what they get on basic necessities.

The result will be higher tax revenues and less spending on safety net programs. So, the analysts say, the actual cost of  a year-long extension would be only $25.9 billion, rather than the $65 billion “sticker price.”

A mere drop in the bucket compared to the unpaid-for $400 billion the federal government will lose in the next 10 years if the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are permanently extended, as the Republicans insist they must be.

And the modest impact on the deficit would be only temporary, since no one’s saying the expanded UI benefits should continue indefinitely.

NELP, among others, is calling for an extension through 2011. This makes good policy sense because the unemployment rate will almost surely remain extraordinarly high. It makes even better political sense because another short-term extension will kick the issue into the opening days of the next Congress.

The new Republican House Majority Leader will want to prove he’s serious about rolling back most categories of discretionary spending to the pre-Recovery Act level. The strengthened Republican minority in the Senate will still be led by Senator Mitch McConnell, whose top priority is to make President Obama a one-term president.

The Republicans banked on voters blaming the President for their economic woes — and election results suggest they were right. Every reason to believe that at least those on the Senate side will pursue the same strategy going forward.

So those of you with voting representation in Congress need to make your voices heard loud and clear. I’ve got an editable online letter you can use.

And, as always, I ask that you pass the word along.


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