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Tell Congress to renew Extended Unemployment Insurance benefits now!

Commentary by Fight Back! Editors |
November 27, 2011
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On Dec. 31, funding for extended federal Unemployment Insurance will expire. If funding is not renewed, almost 2 million jobless workers will be cut off from their benefits in January and almost 4 million more will lose their benefits by the end of May, 2012 - all at a time where the official unemployment rate is still 9%.

While the recession that began in December of 2007 officially ended in the summer of 2009, unemployment has stayed near 10% and a record number of unemployed have been out of work for long periods of time. Regular state unemployment benefits usually last for six months, and there are almost 6 million unemployed workers that have been out of work longer than that. When these long-term unemployed use up their state unemployment benefits, they can apply for federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation that can last an additional 53 weeks. In states with high unemployment rates, the federal Extended Benefits (EB) are available for another 20 weeks. All together, unemployment insurance benefits can last up 99 weeks.

With the funding for federal xtended Unemployment Insurance benefits expiring on December 31 of 2011, about 650,000 of long-term unemployed who on the federal Extended Benefits program will be cut off immediately. About 700,000 jobless workers receiving federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) will have their benefits expire in January, and the other 2.2 million collecting EUC will lose their benefits over the next four months. In addition, about 400,000 workers will lose their state unemployment benefits each month, as there would be no federal extended benefits to fall back on. A total of more than 5.5 million unemployed would be hit by a loss of benefits in less than six months.

While the average unemployment insurance benefit is less than $300 a week, these benefits managed to keep more than 3 million people above the official poverty line last year (2010) alone. With the official poverty rate is over 15% and still rising, a cutoff of federal extended Unemployment Insurance benefits would just add to the growing number of poor people.

A cut-off of federal extended Unemployment Insurance benefits would also put the economy of greater risk of falling back into a recession. Each dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits can create about two dollars in total spending. With unemployment still high, housing prices still falling and the economic crisis in Europe going from bad to worse, the country cannot afford to increase the risk of another brutal economic downturn.

In December of 2010, Congress renewed the Bush-era tax cuts, including all the tax cuts for the wealthy, for two years - until the end of 2012. But Congress only renewed extended unemployment insurance and the Social Security payroll tax cut - which both mainly benefit working people - for only one year. Why should millionaires and billionaires continue to get their tax cuts while more unemployed are forced to choose between keeping a roof over their head and putting food on the table?

The editors of Fight Back! are well aware that there are millions of unemployed who will still be left behind even if the extended federal unemployment insurance benefits are renewed. There are millions of people who have been out of work more than 99 weeks - the so-called ‘99ers’ - who have lost their benefits even with the federal extension. There are also millions of young people who are without work and a growing number who have graduated and never found a job and thus cannot collect unemployment insurance. More and more homemakers and retired people are now looking for work, trying to make ends meet and are also not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

What is really needed is a federal jobs program, like the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), that put millions of people to work in the 1930s. But the need for a real jobs program should not let us sit by while Congress and the 1% that they represent cut unemployment benefits and condemn millions more to poverty.

We call upon all our readers to contact their representatives and senators and demand that they renew the federal extended unemployment benefits now.

Last but not least, while we understand that the Occupy Movement does not want to get bogged down in debates over a long list of demands, we urge the Occupy of all cities to take up a holiday campaign for renewing federal Extended Unemployment Insurance Benefits now!