Hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s bruising battle to continue long-term unemployment insurance benefits for millions of Americans who are struggling to find work, Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled on Thursday a bill to extend those benefits. They don’t want to scramble at the end of the year to negotiate a last-minute deal and say that without the extension, 2.1 million people will lose their benefits in January and by the end of 2012 more than 6.1 million will have lost theirs.
According to the October jobs report the Department of Labor released Friday, the Black unemployment rate fell to 15.1 percent, but is still much higher than the national rate of 9.0 percent.
Under normal circumstances, laid-off workers receive up to 26 weeks of benefits and perhaps up to an additional 20 weeks depending on a state’s unemployment rate. Since 2008, the federal government has provided weeks of additional aid and unemployed workers in some of the hardest-hit states could receive up to 99 weeks of benefits. The $52.3 billion Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act would extend the program through the end of 2012. In addition, it provides interest relief on federal loans to states that have to borrow to cover their unemployment payments as long as they continue to provide aid.
Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett said at a news conference that Congress has never before allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire when the jobless rate was “anywhere close to the current 9.1 percent.” He also said that although “some Republicans continue to blame unemployment on the unemployed,” it is critical to help people who are actively seeking work and states that are struggling to maintain their unemployment insurance programs.
The benefits represent more than just a salary, New York Rep. Charles Rangel observed at the event, which Republicans tend to forget.
“It’s the dignity and pride that you have to know that you’re providing food and clothing and medicine for your family.”
Citing a day this week spent passing a bill reaffirming the nation’s motto as “in God we trust,” Rangel said, “Well, the people we’re talking about can’t pay their bills with that. And they trust God. The problem is, they don’t trust us.”
(Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)