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Federal unemployment benefits extended

Almost 3 Million lost benefits as Republicans blocked Senate vote for seven weeks

By Masao Suzuki |
July 23, 2010
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San José, CA - On July 22 the House of Representatives voted 272-152 to extend the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and Extended Benefits (EB) programs and President Obama signed the extension into law. This came the day after the Senate passed the extension by a 59-39 vote.

Senate Republicans had blocked a vote on extending Federal unemployment insurance benefits for seven weeks. During this time almost 3 million unemployed were cut off from their benefits. Senate Republicans argued that the cost of the extension ($34 billion) was too much given the large federal budget deficit. But these same Senate Republicans want to extend the Bush tax cuts that would add more than $1.6 trillion or ($1600 billion) to the deficit over the next ten years. They argue that the Federal unemployment benefits, which average about $300 per week, are a disincentive to work. But giving the wealthiest Americans hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts will give them incentive to work more. 

While the extension was retroactive to June 2, when the cutoff began, some states may take as long as six weeks to mail the checks. The extension is also only for six months, meaning that there will be another battle over the extension at the end of this year. If the Republicans pick up seats in the Senate in the November election as expected, they will be able to block a vote unless the Democrats are willing to use the reconciliation process and end debate by a majority vote.

The extension also does nothing for the 99ers, the unemployed who have been out of work 99 weeks or more. About 1.5 million people have been unemployed for this long and have run out of both state and federal unemployment benefits.

While the federal government needs to extend unemployment insurance and expand it to include those out of work more than 99 weeks, much more is needed. The subsidy for the Federal COBRA health insurance program for the unemployed was not extended, causing their insurance premiums to triple and forcing many off of health insurance. Aid to state and local government that face large drops in tax revenues was also not extended, which will lead to more tax increases, spending cuts and furloughs and/or layoffs by local and state governments trying to close their budget deficits.

The Republican Senators’ opposition to extending these programs is not only unfair to unemployed working people and everyone who depends on state and local governments services and public schools, it could help the tip the weak economy back into a ‘double-dip’ recession. Given the prospect of high unemployment for months and years to come - and the fact that corporations are not willing to hire even though their profits are up while they are sitting on mountains of cash - there is a need for a federal jobs program like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s.

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