CHN: Congress Must Extend Unemployment Benefits in Lame Duck Session

On July 21, Congress passed H.R. 4213, which was signed into law the next day by President Obama, extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of November 2010. This legislation finally passed seven weeks after the previous resolution had expired, a period during which millions of workers went without benefits. Now the unemployed once again face an impending lapse of the federal unemployment insurance program, unless Congress acts when it returns for a lame duck session during the week of November 15.H.R. 4213 provided a temporary fix to an ongoing problem. It was clear when it passed that high unemployment would persist for at least another year; now many economists expect it to last even longer. Although the number of long-term unemployed has declined a little in the past few months, there were still more than 6.2 million people out of work for 27 weeks or more in August, 42 percent of all the unemployed (up from 33.6 percent a year ago). Federal extended benefits kick in after 26 weeks of state benefits have been exhausted.

Without Congressional action prior to November 30, millions of workers may remain jobless, without unemployment benefits, and with a real possibility of falling into poverty. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data reports that 3.3 million more people would have fallen below the poverty line in 2009 without unemployment benefits (see Census Bureau table, page 20). With economists ranking unemployment benefits among the most effective ways to boost the economy, there will be great pressure on Congress to restore these benefits upon its return.

Advocates for the jobless are concerned that opposition is rising against continuing federal UI benefits, which have already been reduced by Congress. H.R. 4213 did not include the additional $25 weekly benefit originally included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Congress also let expire the subsidy to help unemployed people pay for their COBRA health insurance. (For more information about H.R. 4213, click here to see the July 26 Human Needs Report article.)

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