Obama Urges Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits
President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to encourage Congress to extend jobless benefits to the long term unemployed.
The current extension is set to run out for 1.3 million 3 days after Christmas.
“If Members of Congress don’t act before they leave on their vacations, 1.3 million Americans will lose this lifeline," he said in the White House weekly address. "They’re our friends and neighbors; they sit next to us in church and volunteer in our communities; their kids play with our kids. And they include 20,000 veterans who’ve served this country with honor,” he continued.
The president's statement comes as the White House said Friday it wouldn’t insist on including jobless benefits in the emerging budget deal.
“The vehicle that they use to do that is less important than the fact that they do it,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said Thursday it wouldn’t necessarily have to be inserted into the deal that is expected to be finalized next week.
“Hopefully, it could be part of the budget, but it doesn't have to be part of the budget,” Pelosi said. “It could be on its own vehicle, as it goes forward, but it's something we must consider.”
“If Congress refuses to act, it won’t just hurt families already struggling – it will actually harm our economy," Obama said. "Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy.”
The president spoke about the inequality gap Wednesday in a major speech from the White House, as he shifts focus from the healthcare law to the economy.
The unemployment rate dropped to seven percent Friday—the lowest in five years.
Pelosi had previously said that there would be no budget deal without an extension, so this is a significant walk back. A group of House Republicans, led by Rep. Chris Gibson, is also backing an extension. They are writing a letter to Speaker Boehner requesting he take the measure up as a separate bill before recess.
The proposal would extend benefits by about 3 1/2 months:
More than a quarter of 4.1 million long-term unemployed people -- 718,000 fewer than in November 2012 -- will lose their extended unemployment benefits Dec. 28 with 3.6 million more set to see their benefits end at the close of 2014 unless Congress acts -- an unlikely prospect given the mood among House Republicans.
Extended benefits were available for an average 53 weeks in 2010 and now are available for 28 weeks. A proposed extension would cut that to 14 weeks.
"We have very little appreciable income coming in. In fact, it's just my state unemployment," said Volk, who said she spends 8 hours a day searching for work. She said she has a bachelor's degree in microbiology and a master's in immunology -- and lost her job in May as a result of the sequester.
Her state benefits run out this week.
The President's happy face contention that unemployment benefits help the economy notwithstanding, there is a serious crisis in the job market -- especially for those over 50 years old, many of whom have been laid off for more than the average 37 weeks. A hearing held last week on the Hill highlighted the plight of these older workers:
"Millions of jobless workers are facing severe hardship, even homelessness in many cases, if Congress allows the EUC program to expire. The value of the emergency benefits program, and the urgent need to maintain it in 2014 -- for workers, their families and the economy -- was evident in the testimony of ... worker witnesses, whose stories clearly struck the hearts and consciences of the House members who were present.
"It's hard to imagine that anyone hearing today's witnesses would doubt the sincere desire of the long-term unemployed to get back to work ... the crucial importance EUC benefits play in making it possible for them to get by while looking for work, and the urgent need for Congress to act -- before the [holiday] recess -- to renew this vital program."
Long-term benefits average $1,166 a month -- about 83 percent of what an average family spends on housing alone, NELP said.
It's a phenomenon unique to this recession; rampant age discrimination. When an employer gets upward of 100 applications for each job opening, most don't even look at resumes from those over 50. There is a very real possibility that many of these older workers will never find a decent job again. The economy is being hollowed out by the president's policies, and the effect on those over 50 have been devastating.
But Senator Rand Paul believes we'd be doing these workers a favor by denying them an extension of jobless benefits:
"I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
About 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans will lose federal benefits if Congress fails to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which expires at the end of December.
Without congressional action, the most time that people could get would be six months of state unemployment benefits.
"When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy," Paul argued on "Fox News Sunday."
Paul is repeating the claim that increasing benefits to the unemployed discourages them from looking for work. That possibility has to be weighed against the fact that there are many pockets of unemployment in the country where jobs -- even at fast food restaurants -- are few and far between. Workers in these areas can't even find one job, much less the 2 that they would need to live without government assistance.
Will the prospect of losing benefits act as a spur for the unemployed to stop holding out for the perfect job and take what's available? It's a compelling argument that, unfortunately, lacks proof. And that still doesn't help those who live in areas where depression-levels of unemployment still exist.
Most Republicans oppose an extension so it is unlikely to pass. The casualties of the Obama economy continue to mount and would do so even if an extension of benefits was granted by Congress.