Commentary | Inequality and Poverty

More than 1 million long-term unemployed could lose benefits without extension

Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, made the following statement on Feb. 23, 2010, on the need for extending unemployment benefits.

The unemployment rate is almost 10% and will remain at this level or higher for many months to come. More than 6 million Americans have been jobless and looking for work, week-in and week-out, for six months or more. The extensions of unemployment compensation that allow workers to keep benefits for up to 99 weeks, instead of the normal 26 weeks, are therefore vitally important. But they expire in less than a week, on February 28.

Given this grim reality, Senator Reid’s announcement that the Senate will debate a 15-day extension of unemployment benefits was disheartening. The extended benefits program will be needed for another year at least, so a 15-day extension makes no sense. The American people may not be familiar with the arcane rules that are grinding the Senate to a halt, but they are all too familiar with the hardships that this recession has imposed on their families, friends, and neighbors. Senators have got to find a way to move forward to provide help to Americans who are out of work, starting with a 12-month extension of unemployment benefits.

Waiting until the last minute to vote on an extension has already cost the states millions of dollars and forced them to send cut-off notices to workers receiving unemployment checks.  Extending the program for only 15 days will force the states to twist themselves into knots to re-start the program while simultaneously preparing to shut it down again.  This is waste and abuse.  

As a macroeconomic matter, extending these benefits and the Recovery Act’s special Cobra health benefits for unemployed workers is a powerful way to keep economic demand strong and prevent job losses in the private sector.  A full-year extension of both programs will save or create more than 800,000 jobs. 

Millions of Americans are now relying on unemployment benefits as their only source of income other than food stamps. These are Americans who worked hard, played by the rules, and lost their jobs not through any fault of their own but because of the worst economic crisis in 70 years. Now they are unable to find work because there are more than six job seekers for every opening. There is literally nothing that most of these workers can do to get a job today. Unemployment benefits are often the only way they can make ends meet for their families and keep a roof over their heads.