Immediately, as in: right now. Because, unlike other matters that are part of the fiscal artifice that is being called a precipice, if federal emergency unemployment benefits are not renewed before they expire on Dec. 29, it's going to take a big bite out of economy and have a major impact on millions of Americans who are just scraping by.
Plus, without renewal, an estimated two million who would have received federal emergency benefits in 2013 when their regular state benefits ran out won't get them. And, one more thing, the Economic Policy Institute says failure to renew the emergency benefits will cost the economy 400,000 jobs. Those would be lost because of all the millions of Americans who won't have the benefit money to spend on the goods and services in businesses that employ those 400,000 people.
Now this ought to be a simple matter for a couple of reasons. Every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.52 in economy activity (the multiplier effect), making it the best kind of stimulus available since recipients spend those dollars immediately. In addition, right now long-term unemployment is especially grim. Five million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, a figure that hasn't fallen appreciably in the past year. Others have been out of work a lot longer. Providing a cushion doesn't just help them, it helps everyone.
That long-term joblessness is what those emergency benefits were instituted to deal with in the first place: providing in the worst-hit states 99 weeks of unemployment pay until a budget deal in February cut that back to a combined maximum of 73 weeks of state and federal benefits. In some states the combined maximum is now only 40 weeks. Many Americans have long since exhausted their benefits, both state and federal. (And, of course, a large fraction of Americans without work were never eligible for benefits in the first place.)
If the emergency extensions aren't renewed, the percentage of jobless Americans who receive any kind of benefits will amount to only about one-fourth of the total number unemployed in 2013. That would be a record low. And it would do immense harm not just to the affected workers and their families but also extensive collateral damage to others. It would knock as much as 0.3 percent off the already anemic growth in the gross domestic product.
So, Republicans can put on their big-boy pants, ditch their nonsense about unemployment benefits making people who have lost their jobs lazy, phone up the Democrats and ask them for a quick vote on renewing emergency unemployment benefits. That would help the economy and give peace of mind to lots of Americans, who, unlike the government, really are on the fiscal precipice.
Or they can play the same game they did last year at this time and hold the renewal hostage to other matters. Of course, if these guys are still listening to Rush Limbaugh, who said the last time Barack Obama was elected that he hoped he would fail as president, they may well be tempted to show they still don't believe Obama is legitimately in the White House and that they willing to stick it to millions of Americans in their efforts to keep playing their stupid games.