Bill to Renew Federal Unemployment Insurance for 2012 Introduced in Congress

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Renew Unemployment Insurance NowRepresentatives Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Sander Levin (D-MI) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today introduced legislation to reauthorize federal unemployment insurance programs for 2012, taking the first step to keep crucial federal aid in place for millions of unemployed Americans who are struggling to find employment in today’s dismal job market.

The legislation would continue the current federal unemployment programs for jobless workers through 2012 by extending the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program and by allowing states to continue receiving full federal funding for the Extended Benefits (EB) program.  Together, the federal EUC and EB programs provide 34 to 73 weeks of assistance after state unemployment programs (typically up to 26 weeks) have been exhausted.

Nearly two million out-of-work Americans will be cut off from federal unemployment insurance in January alone unless Congress renews the programs before they expire on December 31st, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).  More than six million could face premature cut-off over the course of 2012.

“This is a must-pass piece of legislation.  With economic recovery fragile and long-term unemployment an ongoing crisis for millions of Americans, we simply cannot let the federal unemployment insurance programs expire at the end of this year.  It’s a critical lifeline for so many workers and their families.  It would be unconscionable for members of Congress to turn their backs on these Americans now,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

“Never before has Congress allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire with such a large percentage of Americans looking for work and we must not let that happen now,” said Rep. Levin, the Ranking Member on the House Ways and Means Committee. “We must preserve these vital programs so that millions of Americans laid off through no fault of their own can continue to make ends meet during the worst economic downturn in most of our lifetimes. Failure to act would impose enormous hardship," Levin said.

“With almost five unemployed Americans for every job opening, too many people remain jobless because of a lack of work, not a lack of wanting to work,” said Rep. Doggett, Ranking Member of the Human Resources Subcommittee.

Last month, unemployed human resources professional Dawn Deane testified before that subcommittee on the critical need for Congress to renew the federal unemployment insurance programs through 2012.  "Too often these days, unemployed Americans like me are reduced to either statistics or stereotypes," she told the subcommittee.  "We don’t have names and faces – we’re either one of 14 million who are out of work, or we’re lazy people, happy to sit home collecting unemployment rather than actively looking for jobs. But I am not just a statistic and I am not lazy."

"Until I find new work, unemployment insurance is our necessary source of income," Ms. Deane said.  "With the unemployment rate so high right now," she continued, "I just don’t see how Congress can even think about letting these important federal programs expire. If they do, my daughter and I, and millions of other families like us, might have no safety net—no lifeline in the new year."

The bill introduced today also offers tax- and interest-payment relief to cash-strapped states that had to borrow money from the federal government in order to cover increased need for unemployment insurance during the recession.  States would get a one-year moratorium on interest payments owed to the federal government, and automatic unemployment tax increases that are required by law would be suspended, provided that states maintain their current level of assistance to the unemployed.

A summary of the bill is here (pdf).

"Extending unemployment insurance is not just the right thing to do, it is a wise investment with a strong rate of return," said Senator Reed.  "Unemployment insurance directly boosts every state's economy, at a time when state spending is necessarily constrained,” Reed added, noting also that Congress has never failed to act on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed while the national unemployment rate remained above 7.2 percent.  Today the national unemployment rate is 9.1% and in Reed's home state of Rhode Island it is 10.5%.

NELP’s recent report, “Hanging on by a Thread,” warns that a lapse or cut in the federal unemployment insurance programs would deal devastating blows to jobless workers and their families, as well as struggling businesses and the fragile U.S. economy.

“The millions of long-term unemployed workers and their families who rely on the modest support federal unemployment benefits provide are not just numbers on national account ledgers.  They are the men, women, and children who have already paid the steepest price for skewed priorities that enriched the richest among us and bailed out the banks but left most Americans behind.  Congressional failure to renew the federal unemployment programs would not only inflict great harm on these families and their communities—it would reflect abject disregard for the millions joining together from coast to coast to demand a rebalancing of our priorities that puts America’s workers and their families first,” said NELP's Owens. 

“NELP commends Representatives Doggett and Levin and Senator Reed for introducing this vital legislation, and we urge members of both parties to put aside their divisions and do what’s right—and what’s desperately needed—for the American people and our nation’s economic well-being,” concluded Owens.

You can lend your voice to those urging Congress to act without delay and pass a full-year reauthorization of the federal unemployment insurance programs:

Sign the Petition to Congress: Renew Federal Unemployment Insurance Now!

 

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