The emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits that millions of Americans are receiving to help them survive a period of long-term joblessness will terminate on Dec. 31 under current law. If the modest but steady income EUC provides—averaging about $300 per week—is cut off, then families, communities, and businesses across the country will suffer. Jobless workers will struggle to pay their rent and utilities and will reduce spending on discretionary purchases of food, clothing, recreation, and entertainment. Businesses, in response, will hire fewer employees. If EUC is not extended through the end of 2013, the effects on the economy will be serious: Economic activity will be about $56 billion lower than it otherwise would have been1and about 430,000 jobs will be lost—at a time when every job is precious.
So far, I have heard nothing to indicate that policymakers in Washington are addressing this matter, even though Democratic and Republican leaders are about to close a deal on keeping the government running for the next six months. It would be disastrous for Congress and the president to let EUC expire. Continuing EUC has to be part of the continuing appropriations legislation that congressional leaders are negotiating right now, which will fund existing programs all across the government through March 2013 at current levels. EUC ought to be extended for another year or until the unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, but Congress must, at very least, act now to ensure that—like the rest of government—EUC is funded through the end of March.
This is a matter that cannot wait and cannot be left to lame duck negotiations over a budget deal. Whenever Congress has put off voting on the continuation of EUC in the past few years it has let benefits lapse, sometimes for months. Businesses and workers around the country need to know that Congress will address this issue soon and will address it positively. The economic well-being of millions of families depends on Congress taking action at the earliest opportunity.
Many conservatives have been calling for an end to extended unemployment benefits, and some members of Congress would have terminated them long ago or even blocked their creation if they could. But no Congress has ended emergency benefits in past recessions when unemployment was above 7.2 percent, and the consensus of economists is that unemployment will remain near or above 8 percent for all of 2013. Any call to end EUC now is premature and destructive.
1. Including both the $35 billion that would be spent on EUC under current law next year and the roughly $21 billion boost to economic activity this spending would provide to the economy through multiplier effects.