CHN: Some Members Not Giving Up on Unemployment Insurance
The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on December 28, 2013. In April, the Senate passed a 5-month retroactive extension with bipartisan support. However, the House refused to bring a bill extending the program to the floor. Had the Senate bill become law, it would have expired on June 1. Since December, 3.1 million workers and their families, including 300,000 veterans, have lost assistance after their state insurance (26 weeks in most states) ran out. Many of these families have urgent needs – some have lost their homes, had to forgo educational advancement opportunities, and are relying on other government programs or family members for food and other basic necessities.
Two of the strongest Senate proponents of EUC are Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), the lead sponsors of the bill that passed in April. They have again teamed up to draft a bill to extend the program for 5 months going forward. Their bill, S. 2532, was introduced on June 25. It would allow job seekers who were cut off on December 28 and are still unemployed to resume receiving EUC for the remaining number of weeks they would have been eligible for had the program not expired. The $9.7 billion cost of the extension is fully paid for by allowing corporations to reduce tax-deductible pension fund contributions and extending customs fees. Representatives Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) have introduced companion legislation, H.R. 4970, in the House.
Some would argue that the fact that the official unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3 percent signals a stronger economy and therefore a lack of a need to extend EUC. However, a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that, because of the lack of job opportunities, nearly 6 million potential workers are neither working nor actively seeking employment. If those workers were included, the unemployment rate would be 9.7 percent. Further, according to EPI the share of the workforce that is long-term unemployed is twice as high as it was in any other period when we allowed long-term unemployment benefits to expire.
Advocates were hopeful that chances for House passage of EUC would be enhanced when Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) was replaced as House Majority Leader, the individual with the most power to determine which bills come to the House floor. The new Majority Leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), comes from Bakersfield, CA where the unemployment rate is 11.4 percent. However, politics seems to be the overriding factor in the House’s refusal to extend EUC.
Advocates note the glaring inconsistency in the Republican demand that EUC be fully paid for while tax cuts that benefit corporations are not paid for. The Senate Finance Committee has passed a two-year extension of tax (cut) extenders with an $85 billion price tag. In addition, the House Ways & Means Committee has passed legislation to make permanent a series of tax extenders that mostly benefit corporations, with an estimated cost of $580 billion according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Neither the Senate nor the House pays for these tax cuts. For additional information, see the June 17 Human Needs Report, and leave your comments on this inconsistency on CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs.