Bipartisan Effort in House and Senate to Renew Push for Unemployment Benefits
Last week, on Wednesday, February 4, Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced an amendment to the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Reauthorization bill (HR 3030) to create a program for temporary extended unemployment benefits for six months. This new program would be created within the Department of Health and Human Services and replace the old Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program. Renewing benefits by the creation of a new program was the only way to make the amendment germane to the CSBG bill, and was the only chance House Democrats had to bring unemployment benefits extension to a vote in recent months.
The amendment passed easily (227 – 179) as 39 Republicans crossed the aisle in a show of support for the 1.9 million long-term unemployed Americans. While this amendment only authorizes a new program in HHS, and does not appropriate any money immediately, the successful vote is a major defeat for the Republican leadership, who blocked attempts to extend federal unemployment benefits before they expired in December. The bipartisan support for the amendment puts increasing pressure on the leadership in the House to allow a vote soon on renewing the TEUC program.
Since the expiration of the TEUC program on December 21, 2003, 90,000 workers per week have lost their federal benefits, a number that is only expected to grow. Long-term unemployment remains a serious problem; more than one in five unemployed workers has been looking for work longer than six months. In January, 375,000 workers exhausted their state unemployment benefits.
On Wednesday, February 11, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked for unanimous consent to consider an amendment on the Senate floor that would have restored the TEUC program for six months, retroactive to December 21, 2003. Republican leadership blocked her effort using procedural rules. It is becoming clear that if such a vote were allowed it would garner wide support from both parties. Democrats in the Senate vowed to continue to attach amendments to other legislation until a vote is held; the next target is a bill to overhaul class action lawsuits (S. 1751).
Next week Congress is in recess for the President’s Day holiday. The National Employment Law Project is urging advocates for the unemployed to make visits or phone calls to your Senators in local offices, urging them to take action for the jobless in your state. Click here to find your Senator’s office