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Weeks Before Deadline, Congress Moves to Extend Unemployment Benefits

December 7, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas

While the country has experienced an almost unprecedented economic downturn this year, one of the most effective forms of stimulus has been unemployment benefits. As reported in a new study (PDF) published by the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, “[t]he part of the stimulus providing the biggest bang for the buck—the most economic activity per federal dollar spent—is the extension of unemployment insurance benefits.”

Those stimulus benefits (also called Emergency Unemployment Compensation) have been the source of intense political wrangling during the past 18 months: House Democrats initially sought to include them in legislation in 2008, but President Bush threatened to veto any bill that contained a benefits provision. In November, Bush relented, and signed H.R. 6867. The program was then expanded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus bill) that was passed in February. More recently, Congress approved an expansion of EUC of between 14-20 weeks (depending on the level of unemployment in a particular state), but only after weeks of bickering in the Senate.

The time spent legislating that expansion is now catching up on millions of unemployed Americans, because the EUC program wasn’t extended when it was expanded. Therefore, the EUC plan enacted as part of the stimulus bill will expire on December 31. According to NELP, more than 1 million Americans will see their benefits dropped in January, and more than 3 million by March, if Congress doesn’t pass a bill extending EUC.

In addition to the EUC program, the NELP/CAP study recommended renewing additional ARRA provisions: federal funding for Extended Benefits, an $25-per-week benefit for the unemployed, a subsidy for COBRA, and tax exemptions on unemployment benefits.

Two bills have been introduced to extend the ARRA provisions: H.R. 4183 in the House, and S.2831 in the Senate. OpenCongress.org should have the text online for those bills this evening, so be sure to start tracking them.

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Comments

  • fizzlesquirt 12/08/2009 3:59am
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    + -2

    Granted – we are in an economic recession. But I personally believe that continuing to give hand outs instead of incentives to get out an look for a job is pointless. Is it any wonder that millions are on welfare/unemployment that could be working

  • Comm_reply
    clintonrjohn50 12/08/2009 9:31am

    where i live there are no jobs,and i am tring to find work,i’ve worked all my life have you?i didn’t take any money i wasn’t entitled to.so unless you have ajob for me get lost

  • Comm_reply
    Avelino_Maestas 12/08/2009 4:12pm

    In addition to those comments already made, I wanted to add that all workers pay into their state’s unemployment benefit funds. Nobody receiving benefits is getting a “hand out,” as they’ve put money into the unemployment system.

    Also, as a requirement for benefits many states insist that those receiving EB or EUC conduct job searches. They have to complete paperwork detailing jobs they’ve applied for and the outcomes of any applications or interviews.

    Finally, with unemployment at near-record highs in many states and regions, and with economic growth so slow, there are far too many applicants for each open position. The economy needs to be creating 200,000 jobs a month just to keep up with the number of people who are entering the workforce (because of age). To insinuate that those relying on EB or EUC are not looking for jobs or are getting a “handout” is completely misleading.

  • UnemployedToo 12/08/2009 12:01pm

    My comments to “fizzlesquirt”:

    Do you realize the time I spend every day searching for work would qualify as a part-time job? Do you realize that skilled, qualified people are out of work through no fault of their own? Do you realize that unemployment is not a handout or welfare? Do you realize there are people who have been employed 10, 20, or more years who have lost their jobs? Do you realize that MOST of us would rather be working than collecting unemployment? Do you realize that some people have run out of unemployment benefits and still have not found a job? Do you realize how many of us have been turned away from jobs because we are “overqualified”—we don’t care but the employers do!

    Until you have walked in our shoes, you have absolutely no right to assume we are not looking for jobs because we prefer to collect unemployment. Although I have no respect for your belief, I wouldn’t wish unemployment on you.

  • driskells 12/08/2009 1:09pm

    This is a very sensitive area for many Americans. It is even more of a concern for a number of minority communities. It is obvious that we need to take a care of people who have paid into that system for quite some time. I don’t know that I would look at the extension of benefits as a handout. I say that many people are cashing in.

  • bobby12 12/08/2009 1:38pm

    when you need help, you need help.

  • nlb99 12/08/2009 1:53pm

    I have been looking for a job since March of this year. I have been in supervisory and management rolls and with all the experience I have, I have been called into 1 interview. Staples advertised for a warehouse supervisor—you have to have an engineering degree, receptionist—bachelors degree. You want to tell me that people are taking handouts? People like me qualify for these positions, but employers know this is their market now. I have never been on unemployment until now and have worked since I was 16 yrs old—-I am now 51. I have been trying to find out where this 1.6 million jobs are, so maybe I can go there to get a job. I am on the verge of losing my house, my husband is on disablilty and is unable to work, thank the lord that our vehicles are paid for. We do have some savings, but it won’t last long once the unemployment is gone. Fizzlesquirt, do you even have a clue what is going on out here. Your concerned about the extension, you ought to be concerned about obamacare.

  • 4ourrights 12/10/2009 5:43am

    To all who voted for Obama, who is without a job: How do you feel now?

  • valdee 12/13/2009 3:47pm

    At the moment, I rely on my unemployment benefits and I’m feeling nervous about my benefits ending in January. To members of Congress: Please pass bills HR 4183 and S2831 soon—thank you. Personally, I would rather be at work, like most people. However, there are very few jobs in the market and for every one job, there are 10+ applicants. Ready, willing and able to work individuals should be able to collect unemployment benefits until they become gainfully employed or enter into a back to work program. The unemployment extensions should be in placed until the end of 2010, with provisions in place (i.e.,the unemployed must be held accountable for their job search). During 2010, the government must find a way to create new jobs perhaps by offering hiring incentives to employers who participate in the back to work program. Hiring people in each state to implement the back to work program will immediately create new jobs.

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