The House is expected to vote today on a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for workers who’ve been out of a job for more than six months. After the Senate failed to pass a larger jobs bill last week, congressional Democrats have proposed a scaled back bill that treats the extension as a stand-alone issue, decoupled from a larger tax extenders package.
Last week, the House reauthorized unemployment benefits as part of the larger jobs bill, but in the Senate Republicans and some Democrats filibustered the measure, saying it would add to the deficit. If Congress does not pass the benefits extension, approximately 1.2 million Americans who have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks will be cut off of the unemployment benefits rolls. The average unemployed worker has currently been without a job for 34 weeks.
The National Employment Law Project says that the congressional failure to extend the unemployment insurance program is virtually without precedent, as lawmakers have not let extended jobless benefits expire in times when unemployment is above 7.2 percent since 1959.
The failure to extend the benefits program will impact some more than others. Blacks and Latinos as well as young people and single-parenting women consistently face jobless rates much higher than Whites. And people of color are more likely to be unemployed for extended periods of time.
The prospect of passing even the standalone benefits extension took a hard blow yesterday with the death of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd. Byrd’s death leaves Senate Democrats three votes short of the support needed to pass an extension, given that all Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska have all opposed past versions of the bill.
Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine asked Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up a standalone bill in the Senate to mirror the one in the House, but thus far Reid has responded by putting the responsibility for gathering the needed votes on Snowe and other Republicans. Without Snowe’s support and the support of at least one other Senator who has opposed previous extensions, there will be no unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
In Maine, Snowe has been targeted by a concerted ad campaign to push her to support an extension bill. The Washington Post reports:
Americans United for Change and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unveiled a $100,000 TV ad campaign calling on her and her Maine colleague, Susan Collins (R), another key moderate, to “get their priorities straight after voting to cut off struggling out-of-work Mainers from unemployment benefits and threatening the jobs of cops, firefighters, nurses and teachers across the state,” according a news release from the groups.
Other advocates across the country are also pushing law makers to mass an extension before the Congressional July 4th recess. Sadly, a video ColorLines produced way back in April on the Senate’s inability to keep the jobless safety net intact remains relevant today. So here you go.
Reprinted with permission of ColorLines magazine, www.colorlines.com.