Yes, we're headed down that road again. Of the more than 9 million Americans surviving on unemployment benefit checks these days, 5 million depend on federal extensions of those benefits because they've been out of work for so long. But the extensions passed in July - for the third time - are set to expire Nov. 30. And Congress only has from Nov. 15 when members return from the campaign recess until Nov. 19 when they go on Thanksgiving recess to do something about it.
If it takes anywhere near as long to get the votes to pass the extensions as it did last time - 50 days - a million workers could be cut off from this meager but crucial life-line between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still more come the new year. There are no indications that Republicans and deficit hawks among the Democrats will make passing the extensions any easier than last time. We'll be treated to another round of tedious imprecations about how the jobless get lazy on their average $310 weekly benefits checks and how the budget just can't handle additional stress. The usual delaying tactics will be employed. In the Senate, that means more filibuster threats and the usual foot-dragging by the usual knuckle-draggers.
That's why the UnemployedWorkers.org is gearing up now to prepare the way for that fight. A project of the National Employment Law Project, it is urging everyone to sign its petition to Congress on benefit extensions, pass the word to friends and political allies and offer feedback on its newly retooled web site. The site operates both to organize and as an information source, with fact sheets on the jobs crisis, links to and critiques of national and regional unemployment news and tracking of the weekly jobless claims data.
“Congress took seven weeks to reauthorize the extensions when benefits expired last June, and in that time more than two million unemployed Americans and their families lost their jobless benefits. With UnemployedWorkers.org, we intend to prevent any cut offs or lapses this November by partnering with mobilized workers, supporters and other advocates to put unemployment insurance at the top of Congress’ to-do list when it reconvenes,” said Chris Owens, NELP Executive Director.
If you've been out of touch for a while and are unfamiliar with the debate over benefit extensions, Unemployed Workers has produced a new video. Thrill to Sen. Orrin Hatch saying, "You know, we should not be giving cash to people who, who basically are just going to go and blow it on drugs."
Chris Owens has it right: "The statement that extending benefits is keeping people from working, making them lazy, etc., I think it is insulting and infuriating." But it also should be energizing to activists who are sick of seeing hard-working-if-they-could-find-work Americans being on the receiving end of yet another round of class warfare.
Ultimately, unemployment insurance needs to be reengineered so that in times of need, out-of-work people aren't subject to Congressional whim and temporary extensions of this lifeline. But right now we've got a rematch on extensions coming our way. Please sign the petition.