Effort to Dismantle Unemployment Insurance Revived in Congress as Conference Committee Convenes

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Having narrowly averted cutting off unemployment insurance to millions of Americans right before the holidays, Congress now returns to take up what should be a relatively simple task even for this Congress -- a full reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance (UI), the payroll tax reduction and other provisions through 2012.  But, as they did in December, some lawmakers are looking to revive House efforts to slash federal benefits, impose onerous new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance.

The stopgap two-month extension of the federal UI program will expire February 29th unless Congress acts on a full-year renewal.  This week, the Joint Economic Committee issued a report on the benefits of continuing unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut.  The report estimated that more than 3.3 million unemployed workers would be cut off of their UI benefits by June 2 without a renewal of the program (see page 4 for state-by-state estimates).

A 20-member Conference Committee of the House and Senate convened for the first time this week to begin work on a full year extension.  The Committee is chaired by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the lead sponsor of H.R. 3630, the House Republican bill that's designed to drastically slash federal UI benefits while erecting harmful new barriers to benefits, making it harder for ordinary Americans to access their unemployment insurance.

Safety Net Demolition - "We Call it 'Reform'"

    The House H.R. 3630 proposals would:

    * Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states

    * Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers

    * Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services

    * Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED

    * Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses

The National Employment Law Project has published a detailed legislative analysis of these and other provisions being sought by House Republicans in H.R. 3630.

Public outcry, meanwhile, has been growing in support of a full renewal of unemployment insurance and against both the reckless cuts and the proposed new barriers to benefits.  An Unemployedworkers.org action page has already generated a combined 96,000 email and fax messages to the members of the Congressional Conference Committee, and another 34,000 to Congressional leaders and other Members of Congress.

Tens of thousands of calls have been made to Congress through our dedicated toll-free line 888-245-3381 and this Click-to-Call action page.

House leaders had to, finally, accede to public pressure and drop their obstruction when Senate Republicans refused to take up the House version of H.R. 3630 back in December.  Now, only strong public pressure will keep the Conference Committee from doing real damage to jobless workers, their families and the unemployment insurance system.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) gets it and is fighting for unemployed workers in the Conference Committee.  Watch what Sen. Reed had to say about the unemployment extension issues during the Committee's first meeting this week:

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