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Horowitz: Restore Unemployment Benefits to Long-Term Unemployed

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

 

Cutting benefits to the long-term unemployed would mean cutting recovery just as it gains momentum.

This week Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and his Republican co-sponsor Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) push forward their proposal to restore and extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program for a three month period. Their legislation provides a critical lifeline to the 1.3 million Americans whose benefits were abruptly cut off right after Christmas when Republicans in both Houses blocked votes on the measure and allowed the program to expire as well as creates the breathing room to negotiate a bi-partisan agreement for a longer term extension.

Senator Reed, in an e-mail sent out to constituents and donors this weekend, said, “These 1.3 million Americans want to get back to work. These are our friends, our families, and our neighbors. All they need is a helping hand through these tough times.” Echoing Reed’s comments in his weekly radio address, President Obama remarked, “We don’t abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough—we keep the faith with them until they start that new job.”

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program is now completely funded by the federal government and provides extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed—those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more—whose original benefits have run out. Congress typically makes this type of emergency funding available during periods of high unemployment. The current iteration of this program was launched at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.

Time to act

While the economy is improving and long-term unemployment is beginning to decline, it is premature to pull the plug. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are still nearly 3 unemployed workers for every job opening, reports The Washington Post’s Wonkblog. Further, the nation's long-term unemployment rate remains as high as it's been at any point since World War II. It is now about twice as high as the long-term unemployment rate was at the times emergency unemployment benefits were cut off in the last three recessions, according to Chad Stone, Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Cutting off these benefits is also a drag on the economy. Economists estimate that we are losing up to $1 billion a week. This money is spent immediately and has a significant multiplier effect.

Congress must act quickly to adopt Senator Reed’s legislation and provide individuals and families who are truly on the edge essential support The next step is negotiating a bi-partisan compromise to provide the approximately $25 billion to extend emergency unemployment benefits for all of 2014. In order to attract sufficient Republican votes, this will likely require identifying down-the-road offsetting budget savings so our long-term debt is not increased. This is a doable task—one critical to keeping the many people still being hurt by the lingering effects of the Great Recession afloat.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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