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Lifeline for Thousand of Unemployed Ends Today Due to Congressional Inaction

April 4, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Because Congress failed to pass an extension before taking off for April recess, thousand of unemployed Americans will have their only source of income, unemployment insurance benefits, cut off starting today. That’s a big deal when 15 million Americans are out of work and Tim Geithner is saying things like, “[the unemployment rate] is going to stay unacceptably high for a very long time.”

The Hill reports:

Starting Monday, more than 200,000 unemployed Americans won’t see jobless benefits they’re expecting because Congress failed to act.

The interruption in benefits will last two weeks at a minimum, according to Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), since lawmakers return from spring break on April 12.  […]

Under the jobless benefits program that ends Monday, Americans out of work are eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The program, aimed at helping jobless Americans stay afloat when new jobs aren’t readily available, gives an unemployed worker more than the 26 weeks of unemployment insurance normally available. But with the program ending, those out of work for as few as six months will see an interruption in their benefit checks.

“Odds are they have burned through savings, already asked for loans and gifts from family and friends if needed, so going for two weeks without a paycheck, especially if those two weeks are a time when rent or mortgage is due, is going to be hard,” Conti said.

Conti’s group estimates that 212,000 people will lose unemployment benefits in the first week that the program has elapsed. For each additional week that the program isn’t extended, another 200,000 jobless Americans will see an interruption in benefits, Conti said.

When Congress finally does act, they will likely pass a bill that gives back lost benefits retroactively:

Senate Democrats said they’ll try to pass an extension of the program that can be applied retroactively once Congress is back in session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a vote on cloture to end debate on the short-term extension for April 12.

The delay will still wreak havoc on state agencies that have had to send out thousands of expiration letters. And it’s likely that people who will be eligible under the retroactive extension won’t reapply for the benefits after receiving the letters. It’s not like everyone in America is following every little thing Congress does (as much as I may wish they would…).

Who’s to blame for the expiration of benefits? Take your pick…

1) Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] and Senate Republicans, who objected to unanimous consent on debating the bill because its spending was considered “emergency” and wasn’t offset, even though UI extensions are almost always considered “emergency” and exempt from pay/go?

2) House Democrats, who said they wouldn’t accept a one-week extension that both the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate said they could agree to in lieu of the 30-day extension?

3) Or Senate Democrats, who could have predicted GOP obstruction and scheduled cloture votes on the bill earlier so that they could get to a final vote on passage before they were scheduled to go on recess? [sorry, no link for this one because I haven’t seen this argument being made elsewhere].

The unemployment benefits extension bill, which would also extend some other expiring programs, is H.R. 4851.

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