Conservatives May Deprive Millions of Jobless Benefits Just in Time for the Holidays
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The U.S. Congress that convened for its limited "lame duck" session has a lot on its plate; it will act - or not act - on some of the pressing issues facing the nation, wrap up its business and go home for the holidays. From then until the new Congress convenes in January there will be a lot of occasions when the members will have their actual china plates piled high. But for a lot of people the holiday fare will be skimpier than it has been for quite a while - especially the nearly 15 million people out of work.
If Congress does not vote over the next week and a half to re-authorize federal unemployment benefits through next year, before they expire November 30, nearly 2 million women and men and their families will face a dismal holiday season. One estimate is that the number could reach 4 million by May with the current emergency benefits program having expired and the additional workers left unaided. It's hard to imagine anything more urgent than this.
The workers who will be affected by the extension are those who recently lost their jobs. The 2 million figure does not include those people who have exhausted their jobless benefits and will be on the streets with little or no income at all. Nor does it include the young people entering the job market for the first time.
According to Unemployed Workers.org, "These benefits have helped keep more than 9 million jobless workers and their families going this year alone, while they look for work in a tough economy. More than 5 million Americans who have been struggling to find jobs for six months or more currently rely on these federal unemployment benefits. Combined with state benefits, the expanded federal unemployment programs kept an estimated 3.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2009."
"Never before has Congress allowed extended unemployment insurance to lapse when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent," says Jackie Headapohl of Michigan Job Search at mlive.com. "We'll find out later this month if the lame duck Congress will continue that tradition."
"It is hard to imagine that Congress could deny help to out-of-work Americans, except that is exactly what happened this summer when federal benefits lapsed for 51 days, cutting off 2.5 million people. Senate Republicans and a few Democrats insisted that reducing the deficit was more important," the New York Times said editorially last week. "That did not stop many of the same senators from preserving tax loopholes for certain wealthy money managers."
Congress' failure to pass an extension this summer took a toll in terms of peoples' lives in ways that are seldom chronicled in the major mass media. "I'd been submitting 20 to 30 job applications a week, and finally I got a job," says Lori Hancock, a 52-year-old woman in Weldon, Ill. who lost her job last November. "But, after working for only 2 weeks, my car was repossessed, and without any transportation to get to work, I lost that new job," Writing to w www.unemployedworkers.org, a website by the National Employment Law Project, she said, "If Congress hadn't let those benefits lapse last summer, I'd still have my car and my new job. Now I have neither. What happened to me could happen to almost anybody."
"Deficits matter,' the Times editorial continued, "but not more than a recovery (benefits are a powerful stimulus) or the economic survival of millions of Americans. Short-term extensions breed uncertainty and anxiety, which are also bad for the economy. The best thing this lame duck Congress can do is extend the benefits for 12 months, with the expectation that things will be better by the end of next year."