If America’s Unemployed Stood Shoulder to Shoulder

Picture this.

Bangor to LA and Back Again

If the 15 million unemployed workers in this country stood side-by-side, literally shoulder to shoulder, they would stretch from Bangor, Maine to Los Angeles, California… and back again.

And that’s not even counting the more than 9 million who are working only part-time even while wanting full-time work, nor the more than 1 million who are too discouraged to even look for work because of the lack of available jobs.

Nearly half of America’s unemployed have been out of work for six months or longer. And more than 5 million of them rely on the extended federal unemployment insurance programs while they look for work in a very weak job market.

Yet, before leaving for last week’s recess, Congress failed to pass an extension of the federal unemployment programs for the long-term jobless, allowing eligibility for those programs to expire, at least temporarily. An estimated 300,000 unemployed workers will lose unemployment benefits by the end of this week, and 1.2 million by the end of June unless Congress restores them retroactive to June 2.

The House did pass a vastly scaled-down unemployment extension, but one that begins to dismantle some of the economic underpinnings of a recovery. That bill cut short a planned end-of-year extension by a month, and eliminated extensions of both the temporary federal COBRA health insurance subsidy and the FMAP provisions to send added help to cash-starved state Medicaid programs.

Currently 15 percent of all unemployment insurance recipients are benefiting from the reduced insurance premiums offered by the COBRA subsidy. Without it, COBRA premiums for an average family would increase to $1107 per month, which would account for 84 percent of the national average one-month unemployment insurance payments.

Unless the COBRA subsidy is restored by the Senate, newly unemployed workers who become jobless through no fault of their own will no longer be eligible for the reduced COBRA premiums. That would mean either going without insurance coverage when it’s most needed, or if eligible, applying for Medicaid at a time when state Medicaid programs are being denied additional federal support.

A new national poll, based on a survey conducted last week, shows that 67 percent favor continuing to extend federal unemployment insurance for those who exhaust their state benefits. The poll also finds that when asked which statement they agree with more, 74 percent agreed that “With unemployment close to ten percent and millions still out of work, it is too early to start cutting back benefits and health coverage for workers who lost their jobs,” while only 21 percent agreed that “With the federal deficit over one trillion dollars, it is time for the government to start reducing spending on health care subsidies and unemployment benefits for the unemployed.”

“The public overwhelmingly supports continued aid for the unemployed as joblessness still affects a stunning 15 million Americans,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “We cannot let a handful of misguided deficit hawks pull the plug on benefits that are precisely the kind of stimulus needed for economic recovery and deficit reduction. Given the choice, the vast majority of the American people would provide unemployed workers and their communities the benefits they continue to need – Congress should be listening to them,” she said.

Call your Senators toll-free at 888-254-5087. Tell them to pass the extended federal unemployment insurance programs retroactive to June 2 and restore the COBRA insurance and FMAP state Medicaid support.

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