Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘unemployment insurance’

Tax breaks for businesses led to state unemployment funds going broke

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Laura ClawsonOver the past four years, a whopping 36 states have had to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment insurance benefits. Obviously a recession with high unemployment has a lot to do with that, but not as much as you might think. Tax breaks for businesses (PDF) are once again a hidden culprit for state budget problems.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project shows that, recession or not, many states could have avoided borrowing for unemployment payments if they hadn’t spent a decade weakening their unemployment insurance trust funds by slashing employer contributions:

Between 1995 and 2005, 31 states reduced employer contribution rates by at least one?fifth (Henchman 2011, 16), causing the nation’s average employer contribution rate over the decade leading up to the Great Recession to fall to its lowest point in the program’s 75?year history.

As a result, going into the recession, state unemployment insurance funds were short of recommended minimum solvency standards by a combined $38 billion, and 30 of the 34 states not meeting that minimum standard ended up borrowing, combined with just six of 19 states that started the recession with adequate funds. Adequate unemployment insurance reserves could have reduced borrowing to 13 states borrowing $9 billion rather than what ended up happening, with 31 states borrowing $42 billion.

But while the funding shortfalls came from employers contributing less than at any point in the previous 75 years, it’s been jobless people who’ve gotten the blame and felt the pinch, with “At least ten states [passing] legislation to reduce the number of weeks of benefits available, severely restrict eligibility, or impose measures designed to discourage people from filing UI claims.” Taxpayers, too, are paying, since states have already paid $3 billion in interest and penalties on what they’ve borrowed for unemployment, with more to come.

Businesses paid less when the economy was decent (not even good for many of the years of contribution cuts). Then the bad economy hit unemployed people first when they lost their jobs, second when their benefits were cut despite ongoing high unemployment. Again and again we’re told that a bad economy is not the time to raise taxes on businesses or the wealthy—apparently it’s never the moment for that, always the moment to cut another hole in the safety net.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Unemployed Workers Win Jobless Aid Extension

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Congress this morning extended for two months unemployment insurance (UI) for America’s jobless workers. Republicans in the House earlier this week had blocked the UI extenstion, but after suffering badly in opinion polling, they announced they’d join with 89 out of 100 senators from both political parties who’d already voted to renew unemployment aid for two months—with no cuts and no strings attached.

Media headlines throughout the week–including the conservative Wall Street Journal–and Republican stalwarts such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), had decried House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) refusal to move the UI bill, which gives a lifeline to 2.8 million jobless Americans who otherwise would lose UI after Dec. 31.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka described the victory for jobless Americans as “not a hnndout or a free ride” but “a lifeline.”

In the fight to extend aid for the jobless, the 99 percent went on the offense against 1 percent politicians. And we won. And if working people keep it up, we’ll score more victories and build a better future. Not every time—two steps forward, one step back. But look around. People all across the country are saying our economy and our democracy are out of balance. And they’re winning the public debate.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on December 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell says ” I got my first union card while I worked my way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (we were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now).” With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blog under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Fired in Real Time: On the Dole

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerI woke up in the middle of the night physically shaking, frozen in fear about how I’d pay my bills. I had totally soaked through my sheets, so I had to climb out of my unintentional water bed.

Once I realized what was going on, I decided I would go online and do some research about Unemployment Insurance. Okay, I can hear what your thinking. Jeez, Mr. Workplace Writer, wasn’t that the first thing you would do after being let go?

Just because I write about the workplace, it doesn’t mean that I can be totally objective when confronting workplace challenges myself. Again, that’s the purpose of this blog, to give you an honest, and sometimes embarrassing, view of the process of getting knocked down at work and learning how to pick yourself back up.

I actually got excited about the idea of going to the unemployment office. As a workplace writer it would be interesting to stand in line with other people who’d been recently pummeled at work to compare notes.  Okay, that last sentence is a bit twisted, but please remember the source.

I learned something remarkable during my middle of the night tour of the Employment Security website. There really is no longer any such thing as the Unemployment Office. It’s all done electronically now.

In fact, it only took me about fifteen minutes to sort out how to file my entire claim. At 3 am.

For anyone who fears the embarrassment of a room full of down and outers and being grilled by some bureaucrat, well those days are now gone. It has been replaced by a series of drop down menus and helpful phone operators. Really, every issue that I’ve come up with so far has been responded to and addressed in a matter of ten minutes or less. They even have a system where you don’t have to stay on hold, they’ll call you back when it’s your turn to talk to someone.

Okay, that last paragraph sounds like I’m trying to get hired by them to do PR for the Unemployment Insurance folks. That was not my intention. But I do want you to know that this process should not inspire fear. It’s automated, easy and only minimally damaging to your ego.

I’ve also heard from people who’ve written to me through the years that they would never stoop so low to ask for unemployment insurance. This has always befuddled me. Unemployment Insurance isn’t charity, it is a fund that you paid into while you were gainfully employed.

It’s no different than buying a gift card at a store. You are paying the cost of the card only to cash it in at a later date. That’s how I’ve always seen Unemployment Insurance.

My a-ha: Unemployment Insurance rocks, spread the word.

Next Installment: Getting advice

*For more information about Unemployment Insurance visit this Workplace Fairness page on unemployment insurance:
http://www.workplacefairness.org/general-unemployment-info

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.org. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

Voices From These Times: Employment Inferno

Friday, November 19th, 2010

kenneth_hagans-250x288The entrance is rather mundane. It has a dark red brick front with metal- framed, smoked-glass doors that lead me into its government offices. Such places are little talked about and, as direct providers of services to citizens, are funded even less. Now, I have arrived here at this place to turn another page of my life.

The hurt, pain, and embarrassment still sting like it happened yesterday. I step into the line to sign up for unemployment compensation. Although it’s been three weeks since I was called into the executive director’s office and given my separation papers, only now, with monthly bills due and no meaningful employment on the horizon, have I ventured into this place.

The line has not moved once, giving me ample time to review my surroundings. Every wall seems to be covered with full-color posters, pastel handbills, and stark black and white newspaper clippings. These signs are notices for cooks, clerks, dishwashers, and hotel staff. Other signs note retraining opportunities and the latest government regulations on what you must do and have for this dubious “benefit.” The drab gray cubicle partitions have frayed edges and dents in their metal corners. The lighting hangs from the ceiling from metal poles painted a cream color that does nothing to enhance the brightness in the room. It is a huge open space, filled with divided places and shattered lives, where no one gets the dignity of privacy to tell their story or learn if they even “qualify” for this benefit.

I fight the urge to walk out, ignoring the thought whispering in my mind that I can always come back tomorrow. Suddenly, the person in front of me speaks to the lady behind the counter: “My job didn’t last; I wasn’t fired…” She replies, “Use the phone system every two weeks to qualify…” The time starts to have a slow-motion feel to it. The smell of fear fills the air like stale cigarette smoke wafting up from the carpeting or long-discarded butts. This smell gets into your hair, clothes, and skin as you try to neutralize your awareness of the seriousness of your plight. But then the despair becomes apparent as you listen to the questions and reactions of those around you. It is in the faces of men and women who, like myself, have studied, worked, and lived sometimes hard lives for tens of years or more and now find themselves and their families subject to the whims of the market forces far beyond their daily lives.

I stare at the faces around me for answers. The dejection and pressure facing these unemployed people is palpable. The practiced indifference of the staff is a painful sight that you can read on any face of the personnel behind the counter. Day after day these state employees gamely try to placate and process hundreds or even thousands of honest, working Americans whom they can neither point to new, suitable employment (read as “make as much as the job you were laid off from”) nor offer appropriate compensation that will meet their families’ basic needs.

At a long desk I, along with five other applicants, struggle to complete the forms and answer questions to get the benefits. First, any part-time work is counted against the amount of unemployment money received. So, that extra job you were working nights to help make ends meet is now deducted from the 40% maximum of your previous full-time salary that you would have been eligible for as the rate of payment. Some men shake their heads in disbelief, knowing that they are already at the brink of financial meltdown.

Soon, a young woman comments about continuing to study to get her nursing assistant certification while she receives unemployment. “No,” the clerk quietly replies. “If you are attending school, then you are not available to work, and thus are not eligible for benefits.” The young woman gasps and says, “But I’m only six months from completing my courses. I have been working and going to school and…” “It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry,” the clerk says firmly. The clerk looks sincere, but the young woman is becoming increasingly distraught. A gray- bearded man who almost looks homeless leans across the table and in a low voice says, “Look, that’s a self-reporting item. If you are in between classes now, you can answer no to get at least some benefits.” She pulls herself together a little, and I am reminded how people often have to help each other get through this process, learning the ins and outs of the bureaucratic rules. The government is not always there to assist you. It often gives an image of aid, only to prescribe a method and a box to live in that many of us could never fit into.

Lastly, you are asked if any potential employer offered you work and did you refuse. Of course, if you had refused, your benefits would be terminated. This is true no matter how unsuited the work or pay is to your life.

After completing the forms, getting copies of my documents, a phone number, and procedure to follow, I stumble to the door. Numb and carrying an armful of legal forms and papers to document my job search, the walk back to the car is a lonely one. The terrible reality is that the means to provide for your family are precariously hanging in the balance of apathetic state employees and a government increasingly unconcerned with those left behind by corporate mergers, downsizing, and the movement of manufacturing plants to places ranging from Mexico to Malaysia.

All you want is a decent job to support your family. Now you have to deal with the global economy. I head for home or the local bar. And I never want to come to the unemployment office again….

This piece, the first of an ongoing biweekly series, originally appeared in the Journal of Ordinary Thought, published by NWA. Find more stories and voices at NWA’s blog.

About The Author:Kenneth Hagans is formerly the business manager at Hales Franciscan High School, a parochial all boys school on the South Side of Chicago. Hagans, who completed his undergraduate studies at the Illinois Institute for Technology, writes to balance his analytical world of numbers and give voice to his life’s experiences. Currently unemployed, Hagans is active in several community groups including A Just Harvest, formally known as The Good News Community Kitchen.

Which Side Are You On: Election Edition?

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerOkay, the election is right around the corner. The purpose of this column is not to tell you who to vote for, or even what to vote for. It’s simply to try to help you to clarify what is important to you. If I do a good job, you won’t even know my political leanings.

Foreclosures — Do you think that the cash support should go to the bankers or the people being foreclosed on? Ironically words like responsibility can be applied or not applied to both sides of this equation.

Sure we’re all mad at the banks. They took huge risks, kept their profits and stuck us with their losses. Which candidates are most inclined to hold the banks accountable? And which candidates are inclined to take contributions from said bankers? The rhetoric isn’t as important as the money flows, in my humble opinion.

Health Care — Health care is another popular political piñata today. Do you long for the old system of health care? Or do you think it makes sense to have someone looking over the insurance companies’ shoulders?

The wars — Is this a question of pride and winning or is it more of an issue of cutting our losses?

Unemployment assistance — 99 weeks does seem like a long time to get help for being unemployed. Too many too long. But if you know people who’ve been out of work that long, you know the struggle that they’re facing.

Political theater or political action — Which candidates are inclined to roll up their sleeves and work to get things done?

This shouldn’t be done from the hip. Definitely take out your voting pamphlets and  do some research on your options. Your steady hand is needed on the ship of state’s rudder.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

Millions Face Bleak Winter When Jobless Aid Ends Nov. 30

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Image: Mike HallMore than 1 million long-term unemployed workers a  month will lose their unemployment benefits—the weekly check that helps keep a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table—if Congress doesn’t act by Nov. 30.

That’s the date the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program expires. But Congress does not return to work until Nov. 15 and then will adjourn again for the Thanksgiving holiday, leaving just a few days when lawmakers are in town to extend the lifeline that has been so vital as unemployment continues to hover near 10 percent.

Click here to sign a petition to Congress to act quickly and extend the UI program before it expires Nov. 30.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), says that in 2009 alone, UI benefits have kept 3.3 million American families— including 1.5 million children— from falling into poverty.

With the holiday season approaching, it would be especially cruel to families and bad for businesses to cut off these benefits. Any cuts would also be a drastic departure from how unemployment insurance has functioned ever since the Great Depression; Congress has never cut back on federally-funded jobless benefits when unemployment is so high.

NELP in recent days launched an online campaign—UnemployedWorkers.org—as resource to mobilize support and push Congress to act before the Nov. 30 deadline. That will be a big lift because for the past two years, Republicans have tried to block every extension of the extended UI program.  Says Owens:

Congress took seven weeks to reauthorize the extensions when benefits expired last June, and in that time, more than 2 million unemployed Americans and their families lost their jobless benefits.

Some Republicans and radio blowhards (see video) have even claimed unemployment insurance benefits—an average of just a little more than $300 a week—make jobless workers so comfortable, they won’t go out and look for work. Not that there’s much out there. Owens calls the claims “insulting and infuriating.”

In the video, Christopher J., a marketing professional out of work for more than a year, says:

There’s no such thing as pickiness when you don’t have a job. I have tried every job. I will go and apply for a maintenance position.  I have done that maintenance position when I was in college.

UnemployedWorkers.org features:

  • Fact sheets on the jobs crisis and the role of unemployment insurance in rebuilding the economy.
  • Weekly tracking of jobless claims data, national and regional unemployment news and other items related to the recovery.
  • Online actions, including a petition to Congress, call-ins and letter-writing to elected officials.
  • Workers’ stories, in blog posts and videos, and a forum for workers to contribute their own.
  • Real-time feeds on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Expert advice for unemployed workers about jobless benefits.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Senate Ends Republican Filibuster Against Jobless Benefits

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Image: Mike HallEach day while Congress was on its two-week spring break, some 30,000 long-term jobless workers ran out of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits because of Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), who blocked a vote to extend UI benefits.

Yesterday, the Senate’s first day back from vacation—and with more than 400,000 workers now out of benefits—Coburn was at it again, taking to the Senate floor to continue the filibuster against helping the jobless.

But by a 60-34 vote, the Senate told him to shut up and voted to end his endless diatribe against workers who are desperate for work. Coburn was joined by 33 other Republican senators who voted to continue the filibuster and block extension of UI and COBRA, which helps jobless workers pay for health insurance. Four Republicans and all 56 Democrats who were present voted for cloture. Six senators did not vote.

The UI filibuster is just the latest example of Republican filibuster abuse. It was the 50th time this Congress, the “just-say-no” Republicans, has tried to talk legislation or nominations to death.

The cloture vote means the Senate will now be allowed to vote on a short-term, 30-day extension, probably Thursday.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calls the delay “shameful” and says Congress needs to get down to the business of a long-term UI extension.

It is shameful that such a simple and humane step took so long to implement and that Republican senators tried to win political points by jeopardizing the lifeline of hundreds of thousands of working families.

Congress should act soon to extend these benefits for a full year, so working families don’t face Republican obstruction and uncertainty every single month. The House and Senate should move quickly to reconcile their competing bills.

More than two in every five unemployed workers in this country have been unemployed for more than six months. And the situation is getting worse. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) increased by 414,000 in March to 6.5 million. In March, 44.1 percent of unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks or more.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on April 13, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

Danger: Falling Middle Class

Friday, February 5th, 2010
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Jack Cafferty at CNN this week asked viewers one of his seemingly routine questions. But the responses to: “How has definition of ‘middle-class American’ changed?” reveal a cataclysmic shift in our nation’s economic identity.

Gary from El Centro, Calif., summed up the vast majority of the nearly 200 responses when he replied:

You should ask this question of the three or four people in the country still remaining in the middle class.

The comments reflect more than the run-of-the-mill griping about taxes or middle-aged discontent. They demonstrate a visceral understanding of the deep forces underlying the dramatic change that in recent decades has eroded the solid financial footing of America’s working families—America’s middle class.

In short, the American public knows what most lawmakers in Washington and policymakers around the country have yet to figure out: The nation is losing its middle-class backbone and bifurcating into a have/have not country.

As Karen from Idaho Falls writes on Cafferty’s site:

In my world, there is no middle class–only the very rich, the rich, the poor, and the very poor. Most of us are hanging on to being “poor” by our fingernails and hoping that we won’t join the ever growing “very poor” class. Somewhere along the line, “middle class” disappeared.

The not-so-Great Recession is just the latest and loudest part of the long decline of the middle class. From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, wages grew along with productivity. But since then, wages have been stagnant or declining—while productivity skyrocketed. The decline in a family’s earning power was offset by the entrance of vast numbers of women in the labor market—and then by wage-earners holding multiple jobs. By the late 1990s, debt—from second mortgages or credit cards—kept the middle class afloat. And now what is revealed is a middle class held together by nothing more than string.

One of the most consequential but least recognized aspects of the current economic disaster is the growing length of time workers are without jobs. In December, the average jobless worker had been unemployed for 29.1 weeks. In contrast, when the recession began in 2007, the average unemployed person had been out of work for 16.5 weeks.

At Economix blog, Catherine Rampell points out in an tellingly titled post, “A Growing Underclass,” that the longer unemployed workers stay out of work, the less likely they may be to find work.

First, their skills may deteriorate or become obsolete—especially if they are in a dynamically changing industry like high technology.

Second, the stigma—both internal and external—of their unemployment grows. Studies have linked job loss to declines in self-worth and self-esteem, meaning these people will probably make less compelling job candidates.

So, even if there were jobs available—there are now more than six unemployed workers for every one job—getting one becomes harder and harder the longer you’re out of work. Jobs are so few, in fact, even a weekly columnist at Forbes had this to say:

For many, many Americans there are no jobs and few prospects. For them the Great Recession is not a cute aphorism but a major cataclysm.

Long-term joblessness is one more nail in the middle class coffin. As Working-Class Perspectives describes it:

Unlike in past business cycles, the middle class has not been able to recover so far, despite increases in productivity and stock prices. In “America Without a Middle Class,” Elizabeth Warren documents how the de facto unemployment rate, credit debt, “underwater” mortgages, increased use of food stamps, personal bankruptcies, and the loss of pensions and health care have all dramatically increased. Middle-class households have depleted their savings and are increasingly accruing debt to pay for college, health care, and other expenses.

Some experts believe that the decline in jobs will only continue. For example, Alexandra Levit predicts significant losses in a number of key industries between 2008 and 2018: semiconductor manufacturing (33.7 percent), apparel manufacturing (57 percent), newspaper publishers (24.8 percent)….Corporations are moving many of these jobs offshore or replacing them with technology rather than paying middle-class wages and benefits. The economists are right that new jobs are being created in place of these. But as Jack Metzgar discussed last week, most of the new jobs offer even lower wages and benefits and require less education.

Jobs are offshored while the jobs that remain in the United States are low-wage, with little affordable health care or retirement options. Meanwhile, the smooth of face and soft of hand financial wizards who turn their noses up at the industrial manufacturing sector fail to realize that when the United States loses its ability to make things, it also loses the research and development power that fueled the nation to greatness. And it loses something a lot more. Louis Uchitelle interviews Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) about the humiliation of building a new World Trade Center with no glass made in the United States:

“Imagine China,” he said in an interview, “building a huge structure intended to be an important national symbol and importing glass from the United States to build it. There is no way the Chinese would do that.”

And a low-wage job nation fuels income inequality. This from a stunning report by economist John Schmit at the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

From a peak just before the 1929 stock market crash through the early 1950s, wage and income inequality, broadly measured, were declining. From the early 1950s through the late 1970s, inequality was flat, or even falling slightly. Since the late 1970s, however, inequality has skyrocketed, climbing back to levels last seen in the 1920s. In 1979, for example, the top one percent of all U.S. taxpayers received about 8 percent of national income; by 2007, the top one percent received over 18 percent. If we include income from capital gains in the calculation, the increase in inequality is even sharper, with the top one percent capturing 10 percent of all income in 1979, but over 23 percent in 2007.

Back at Cafferty’s site, Chad from Los Angeles knows why:

The middle class has turned into the “peasant class.” We have been taken over by a few wealthy people who control our politicians and government. We have become an Aristocracy. Except the ones in control are not royalty, they are businessmen hiding behind a cloak of deception that is Corporate America.

In the short term, critical steps must be taken for immediate relief. The first is getting the Senate to extend unemployment insurance (UI) for the long-term unemployed. As usual, the House already has acted, extending UI in December, while senators dither. (Click here to tell your lawmakers it’s time to act.) Extending UI is part of the jobs initiative the AFL-CIO is pushing for immediate relief for jobless workers.

But before the current crisis fades, the nation must begin to reverse the more than 40-year trend in which the gap widens between rich and poor and the middle class falls out of the bottom.

Silas from Boston—a city not unfamiliar with fomenting revolutions—offers an intriguing insight:

We’ve allowed the “upper” class to become too big to fail. As a result, the middle class is an endangered species which has to bail out the class that got us into this mess to begin with. This is how the French Revolution started.

*This blog has been crossposted with permission from Campaign for America’s Future.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

House Set to Act Fast Now that Senate Finally Passed Jobless Aid Extension

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Image: Mike HallBREAKING: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the unemployment insurance extension bill, by a 403-12 vote. The bill is on its way to President Barack Obama who could sign it as early as tomorrow.

After weeks of Republican stalling and obstruction that cost hundreds of thousands of jobless workers their unemployment insurance (UI)—the Senate last night approved extending UI to workers who have lost or will lose their benefits by the end of the year.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) promised to move quickly—as early as today—to ensure a House vote on the bill so President Obama can sign the legislation and get the checks moving again. Said Hoyer last night:

For too long, Senate Republicans blocked progress on extending unemployment insurance, which would provide immediate and tangible help to those who need it most, while also boosting our economy. Democrats remain focused on doing everything we can to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and extending unemployment benefits is part of that effort. Now that this legislation has passed the Senate, I will bring it to the House Floor for a vote.

The bill also extends the first-time home buyers’ credit and some business tax credits.

Apparently Republican lawmakers saw little hypocrisy in blocking help for the jobless for more than a month, then voting unanimously (98-0) for the bill. It likely wasn’t a sudden epiphany that moved them, but simple political expediency—judging by the comments on our blog from angry workers, the Party of No Senators likely heard an earful about their obstructionism.

In September, the House passed a benefits extension, but several times last month Senate Republicans blocked votes on the bill. The bill that passed last night would provide an additional 14 weeks of benefits to employed workers in all states and an additional six weeks for jobless workers in states with a 8.5 percent or higher unemployment rate. Because the Senate made changes to the House bill, a second House vote is requited.

Nationwide, official unemployment stands at 9.8 percent and is expected to get even worse when October’s jobless numbers are released tomorrow. Some 26 million U.S. workers are unemployed or underemployed, and the long-term jobless rate is the highest since 1981. More than one in three people who are unemployed have been out of work for at least six months, according to National Employment Law Project (NELP).

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

14 Senators Urge Unemployment Extension

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Image: Seth Michals

Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

More than 1 million people hurt by the bad economy are at risk of losing their unemployment insurance by the end of the year. During the toughest economic crisis in more than a generation, 7,000 people every day are seeing their UI expiring—and it’s due to the petty obstructionism of two senators who are blocking the needed extension of UI benefits.

This afternoon, 14 senators from across the country joined together to urge swift passage of a UI extension, to give workers access to the system they’ve paid into and to keep families and communities economically secure. With unemployment officially at 9.8 percent and an estimated 26 million out of work or discouraged, we can’t wait any longer to extend UI.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that the obstruction of desperately needed assistance to struggling families must end:

We can stand together now, pass this vital piece of legislation, and provide families with the means to stay in their homes and pay the bills as they look for work in these extraordinarily turbulent times. Slow-walking these benefits doesn’t just hurt individuals and families; it is bad for businesses and the broader economy. Helping people stay afloat is not a partisan issue—it is an urgent national issue that demands action now.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said that UI extension is necessary to prevent even further weakening of our economy:

The unemployment extension bill before the Senate is a great bill—one that will stimulate the economy and help unemployed workers across the country struggling to get back on their feet. Helping people who are about to lose a lifeline is the essence of what we do as public servants—that is why this delay is so disappointing. I ask those members who are holding up this urgent legislation for political purposes to do the right thing and pass this extension immediately.

The pending bill in the Senate would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks, or 20 weeks in states with especially high unemployment. Unemployment benefits allow workers looking for jobs to continue to support their families and local businesses, providing a needed economic boost. Unfortunately, efforts to pass this bill have been blocked twice by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Click here to tell the Senate it’s time to pass an extension of UI benefits.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 20, 2009.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

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