As I wrote last week, a large coalition of national organizations has coalesced around a five-point job creation plan. It’s considerably more ambitious than the Jobs for Main Street Act that President Obama endorsed in his State of the Union address–let alone what the Senate reportedly is considering. But there are common elements.
One is a provision in the Jobs for Main Street Act that can’t wait until the Senate passes its jobs creation bill–an extension of the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits that were originally part of the economic stimulus package. These allow unemployed workers to continue receiving benefits for 34 weeks beyond the usual period in their state–or longer if they live in a state with a high unemployment rate. By now, most do.
Under the current law, these extended benefits will expire at the end of February. If the law isn’t reauthorized, millions of unemployed workers will have no source of income. Those who had health insurance through their employers will also lose the COBRA subsidy that’s been helping them keep that insurance.
But here’s the kicker. The Senate can’t wait until February 28 to extend them a lifeline. According to the National Employment Law Project, state UI offices will begin reprogramming their computers to end the extensions on February 19.
Due to decades of inadequate funding, most of them are running very old systems that can’t be reprogrammed quickly. So they’ve coped with the UI extensions with some creative patches. They’ll begin undoing the patches in time to have their standard programs working by March 1. Once they’ve shifted back, it could take them months to restore the quick fixes.
Meanwhile, workers who are entitled to the extended benefits won’t be getting them. These are workers who’ve been unemployed for a long time. So most will probably have exhausted whatever savings they had. This, of course, will put additional pressure on other safety net programs.
It will also cut off the flow of many millions of dollars to local businesses–grocery stores, hardware stores, rental housing companies, etc. The Economic Policy Institute says that an additional 800,000 jobs could be lost by the end of the year. No need to say what this would do to our fragile economic recovery.
NELP has a toll-free hotline that those of you who have Senators can use to light a fire under their tails–888-245-0215.
UPDATE: NELP has just announced that the Senate has to pass the UI/COBRA extension by February 12 because it won’t be in session the following week.