It has been 36 days since an obstructionist minority in Congress allowed federal unemployment benefit programs to expire.
During that time, an estimated 1.72 million long-term jobless workers have already had their unemployment benefits cut off, a number expected to exceed 2 million by the end of this week. Also during that time, Congress has taken two 10-day recesses and several long weekends off.
Prior to the current July 4th recess, the House passed a stand-alone unemployment extension, but the Senate came up one vote short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the minority’s obstruction.
In that last vote, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to join the 36 Republicans who voted “No”, thereby blocking a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted “Yes” after the stand-alone unemployment extension was substituted for the original, larger bill. Still, the bill needed one more vote to achieve the 60 vote threshold.
Where is that one vote going to come from when the Senate reconvenes next week? And who are you going to call to help make that happen? We’ll offer some suggestions and local contact information. But first, let’s put the unemployment benefit extension in some historical perspective.
Never before has Congress cut off benefits when unemployment was so high. Since the 1950s, federal unemployment insurance extensions remained in place during recessionary periods until unemployment dropped to as low as 5.0 percent. The highest unemployment rate at which these extensions were allowed to expire was 7.2 percent, following the 1983 recession -
Not only were unemployment insurance extensions continued at much lower overall unemployment rates during these previous recessions, but they were maintained when long-term unemployment was far less severe than it is now. The number of unemployed workers who have been jobless for six months or more is at a record 6.8 million Americans, and the average length of unemployment in June set a new record at 35.2 weeks. It is the unemployment benefits for these long-term jobless workers that are being cut off now by the failure to extend these programs. An estimated 350,000 long-term unemployed workers are losing their benefits each week that the programs are not restored. This is devastating families and hurting businesses in local communities where beneficiaries would be spending these unemployment insurance payments.
The expiration of the federal programs has cut off benefits nationwide to those eligible for Tiers I through IV of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. It has also cut off federally-funded Extended Benefits (EB) in 23 states that would otherwise have these extra 13 or 20 weeks of unemployment insurance available for long-term jobless workers. Only 11 states maintain permanent EB programs that do not depend on federal funding.
What’s worse is that the extended benefits program, although permanently in place in all states, will not continue to provide extensions for most recipients relying on unemployment insurance extensions to feed themselves and their families, and keep their homes. Most states were able to distribute extended benefits through the optional trigger they took up (based on their unemployment rates) following the availability of federal funding through the Recovery Act. All 27 states that took up the optional trigger for extended benefits made the trigger dependent on full federal funding. In other words, when federal funding ended, so did the extended benefits program in most states.
In fact, only 11 states will remain on the extended benefits program now that federal funding has not yet been renewed. These 11 states boast permanent unemployment rate triggers that are not dependent upon federal funding to go into effect, and thus will continue to provide between 13 weeks and 20 weeks of additional unemployment benefits (see map).
The lapse in congressional reauthorization forces 23 states and the District of Columbia to stop distributing extended benefits at a time when additional unemployment insurance benefits are needed most.
Is it possible that a United States Senator cannot understand what this means for those working Americans who were unfortunate enough to have had their jobs taken from them by this monster recession?
Perhaps this will help describe it:
Imagine, Senators, that your weekly pay of $3,346.15 were reduced by, say, $3,000 and you and your family were left to try to get by on $346.15 a week — which is, by the way, slightly more than the average weekly unemployment check.
Now imagine that, suddenly, even that meager $346.15 a week disappeared as well.
That’s what it’s like already for nearly two million long-term jobless workers. Except they did not have the benefit of previously having a $174,000-a-year job — one where they worked an average of less than 4 days a week.
There’s no way to know when a replacement for the departed Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia will be seated. And Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson appears to be determined to be the Democrat who’s going to out-Lieberman Lieberman.
So it falls to us to try to persuade at least one more Republican to allow a simple vote by a clear Senate majority to decide the fate of the federal unemployment extension, and that of millions of Americans.
I’d suggest calling these Senators’ home-state offices this week while they’re on recess, and telling them to end the obstruction of unemployment benefits that are desperately needed in their own states:
Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA)
Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)
Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO)
Jefferson City: 573-634-2488
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Las Vegas: 702-388-6605
I’m starting with Scott Brown…. Who you gonna call?