CHN: Federal Unemployment Benefits Program Will Expire December 31 Without Extension
Congress Must Act to Renew Program to Keep Millions of Unemployed Workers Receiving Assistance
While Congressional leaders are predicting an adjournment date of November 7 – a target that appears increasingly unlikely – another important deadline is looming for America’s unemployed workers. Before adjournment Congress must act to extend federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire on December 31, 2003.
Congress triggered the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program in March 2002 in response to increasing unemployment and a sluggish economy. It gives 13 weeks of federal unemployment benefits to unemployed workers after they have exhausted their state benefits. Despite this extra help, the employment outlook at the end of 2002 worsened just as the program was set to expire. Shortly before the holiday season in November 2002, the Republican-led Congress adjourned without renewing the TEUC program, leaving hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers without assistance. When Congress returned in January, it temporarily extended the program.
Congress renewed the program again in May 2003, but the legislation left behind 1.1 million long-term unemployed who had exhausted both state and federal benefits. With the December 31, 2003 expiration date looming once again after adjournment, advocates say it is critical for Congressional leaders to pass an extension of the program, but to also expand the benefits to more workers in need.
There are two competing proposals in Congress to extend the TEUC program. HR 3270, sponsored by Representative Jennifer Dunn (R-WA) is a straight six-month extension of the TEUC program. Like current law, it would provide 13 weeks of federal unemployment benefits to workers who have exhausted their state benefits. However, the bill would provide no benefits to the 3.9 million workers who have used up their 13 weeks of federal benefits already.
The other proposal, introduced on October 2 by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), is a bill that would extend and expand the TEUC program (S 1708). The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act would double the amount of extended federal benefits to 26 weeks, provide seven additional weeks of benefits to qualified workers in fifteen high unemployment states (ten more states than current law), and expand coverage for low-wage and part-time workers. The Kennedy bill would also provide benefits to the 3.9 million workers who have exhausted their extended federal benefits already without finding work Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a companion bill (HR 3244) in the House that currently has 45 cosponsors.
With 2.1 million Americans unable to find work after looking for more than 6 months (783,000 more than compared to March 2002), long-term unemployment is an increasingly worrisome problem. By failing to expand the current 13 weeks of federal assistance, and by leaving out those who have already exhausted their federal benefits, the House Republican proposal does not respond to the substantial rise in long-term joblessness.
Last year, emergency extended benefits were allowed to expire as Congress went home for the holidays. This year, observers believe it is likely – but not a certainty – that Congress will extend the TEUC program. It is not clear if they will do so before adjournment, however. Advocates for the unemployed will continue to press for expansion and improvements to the program.
Reasons to Extend and Expand TEUC Benefits
· Unemployment insurance has been a critical safety net for the nation’s workers and the national economy. It helps workers weather tough times and provides a cost-effective boost to the economy during downturns.
· In August, the Congressional Budget Office projected that unemployment will average 6.2 percent across the nation in 2003 and 2004. Claims for unemployment benefits continue to grow even as hundreds of thousands of workers are exhausting their state and federal benefits. According to the AFL-CIO, there are three job seekers for every job opening.
· According to the National Employment Law Project, in July 2003, 44 percent of unemployed workers ran out of their regular state benefits, the highest figure since the statistics were first published in 1950. In September 2003, 23.2 percent of the jobless were long-term unemployed, which is the highest monthly total in 20 years. Seventy-four percent of current TEUC recipients will exhaust their federal unemployment benefits before finding work. In this “jobless recovery,” longer extended federal unemployment benefits are essential.