Congress Considers Unemployment Extension

Oct 06, 2009

By Josh Bone

Millions of workers are on the verge of losing their unemployment benefits in spite of an extension provided earlier this year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

About 400,000 people exhausted their benefits at the end of September and another million will do so by Dec. 31 if Congress does not act, according to estimates from the National Employment Law Project (NELP). With the economy continually shedding jobs and long-term unemployment at record highs, those in an already precarious situation may be left without a safety net until they find employment.

The U.S. House of Representatives responded in late September by passing HR 3548, a bill that would provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to recipients in states that have unemployment rates over 8.5 percent.  The Senate has not yet acted.  Many senators support extending benefits in all states, not just the 28 states plus the DIstrict of Columbia that currently qualify. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance committee, has introduced a bill that would provide four weeks of extended benefits to workers in all states, and 13 additional weeks in states with unemployment over 8.5 percent.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has said she will introduce  a bill that would go further, providing an additional 13 weeks of benefits to all recipients, and 17 weeks to recipients in states that have been particularly hard-hit.  Shaheen has proposed to tap funds provided for the bank bailout to support the extension.

With the national unemployment rate reaching 9.8 percent in September and expected to rise, it is critical that Congress act soon to help the long-term unemployed and prevent them from being cut off from unemployment benefits.

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