Republicans controlling the House oppose a drive by Democrats to renew jobless benefits averaging less than $300 a week nationwide for the long-term unemployed, a senior GOP lawmaker said Tuesday.If that story sounds familiar, it ought to, since Republicans have fought the renewal of extensions of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program every time it's been brought up in the past four years. And although enough of them have voted in Congress to renew the program of extended federal compensation, they've managed to hold it hostage each time a vote comes up as a means either of cutting it or making other budget changes. Or both. That's hurt the long-term unemployed—Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more—now officially clocking in at 4.1 million.
“I don’t see much appetite on our side for continuing this extension of benefits,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “I just don’t.”
Unless the EUC is renewed this month, 1.3 million people will lose their weekly compensation checks between Christmas and New Year's. Another 850,000 will lose their benefits by March 2014.
The EUC was first enacted in June 2008, at a time unemployment in the Great Recession was "only" 5.6 percent. It's been reauthorized or renewed 11 times since then, mostly recently in January 2013. But as the National Employment Law Project points out, there are more long-term unemployed now than there were at the height of the Great Recession, which ended officially in June 2009. Unemployment is still 44 percent higher than it was in December 2007 when the recession began and is 30 percent higher than when the EUC was first enacted.
Although the EUC has provided a lifeline for many Americans, in September, according NELP, only one out of three of the long-term unemployed were covered by the program. That speaks loudly to the need to expand the program. If EUC is allowed to expire as the likes of Tom Cole would prefer, just one out-of-work American out of four would receive any unemployment compensation in 2014, all of it coming from state programs. And in several states, those receiving that compensation would get less than in the past because of state cutbacks in how long a jobless person is allowed to keep getting checks and because the amount of those checks has also been trimmed by Republican legislatures.
But the pain that a EUC cut-off would cause makes no never-mind to Republicans who have long viewed the entire program as enabling layabouts who they believe are living high off Uncle Sam—with an average compensation check of $269 a week. There's a way to end this continuing attack on the EUC: Add a passel of congressional Republicans to the unemployment queue.