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Unemployment Insurance benefits under attack

Federal Extended Benefits could end Feb. 29

By Masao Suzuki |
February 12, 2012
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San José, CA - On Feb. 29, federal Extended Unemployment Insurance benefits will end unless Congress agrees to continue the program. Republicans in Congress are threatening to block the extension unless they are able to cut benefits and make federal workers pay for the cost of the program.

Right now there are 3.5 million Americans who are collecting benefits from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) or Extended Benefits (EB) programs. The EUC and EB provide up to 73 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed after the 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits run out.

The EUC began in 2008 under President Bush and the EB was added in 2009 under President Obama, to deal with the growing problem of long-term unemployment during the recession that started in December 2007. In 2012 there are still 5.5 million people who have been out of work for more than six months. The average length of unemployment is still about ten months.

Despite the obvious need for extended unemployment benefits, Republicans in Congress have launched an unprecedented attack on the unemployment insurance programs and federal extended benefits. Republicans are proposing to ‘reform’ unemployment insurance by limiting extended benefits to 33 weeks (down from the current 73 weeks). This would end benefits for 1.5 million long term unemployed in states with the highest unemployment rates.

In addition, the Republicans want to require the unemployed to have graduated from high school or be enrolled in a GED program in order to collect benefits, which could affect the 1.5 unemployed who haven’t graduated from high school. This would target older workers who are most likely not to be high school graduates. The Republicans also want to institute drug-testing for the unemployed who apply for benefits, despite the fact that drug-testing in other programs have shown people getting federal benefits are much less likely to be using drugs than the general public. They are also proposing to freeze wages for federal workers or cut their pensions in order to pay for the cost of continuing federal extended benefits.

The Republican drive to limit unemployment insurance benefits and to harass the unemployed is because they want to blame the unemployed for being out of work by suggesting that they are uneducated or drug users. But the reality is that there are just not enough jobs, as corporations would rather sit on trillions of dollars of cash and export jobs than hire more Americans. Even though it has been two and a half years since the official end of the recession in June of 2009, there are still a half million fewer jobs than there were when the recession started. In addition there are still more than four jobless workers for every job opening -- showing that there are just not enough jobs to go around.

While Republicans fought to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich for two years, they are putting up obstacles to extending unemployment insurance benefits and cutting payroll taxes that would benefit the working class. Democrats support continuing federal extended benefits, but are showing signs that they willing to cut the length of benefits and possibly accept other Republican proposals. The bottom line is that both parties are financed by the rich and powerful and working people will have to demand the extension of unemployment insurance benefits to overcome Republican opposition and to prevent a Democratic Party compromise.