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.