State Unemployment Commissioners Implore Congress To Reauthorize Benefits Extensions
Labor commissioners and unemployment-agency officials from several states joined a coalition of labor and advocacy groups Monday to implore Congress to reauthorize unemployment benefits extensions set to expire at the end of the year. If Congress doesn't act before its Christmas recess -- and it might not -- one million jobless workers will run out of benefits in January.
"There's a profoundly human dimension to job loss, especially in this kind of economic recession," said Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Secretary Sandi Vito at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "I have policymakers and people ask me all the time, 'Do people really need all these weeks of benefits?' The answer is yes."
The National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a report (PDF) with a state-by-state breakdown of benefits exhaustions from January to March. In all, 3.2 million people who would otherwise be eligible for extensions will lose their benefits over a three-month period unless Congress acts. The report stressed that economists consider unemployment benefits the most stimulative part of the stimulus bill.
"You have state labor officials, commissioners, heads of departments of labor who've joined with national organizations in urging congress and the administration to act on what we think is the most pressing and compelling need right now for the country," said Wade Henderson of the Half in Ten Campaign.
"If Congress is not listening to these issues, and the administration is not listening to these issues, then clearly we have a problem. They are politically tone deaf because the entire country is urging that something be done."
There are measures pending in both chambers of Congress to extend benefits and COBRA health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers, but it's not clear that lawmakers will act before they leave town for their Christmas break on Dec. 18.
On Dec. 3, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she hoped the House could reauthorize benefits and COBRA subsidies before then. In a statement to Huff Post, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Reid is working to extend the programs but didn't say when it would happen.
"Senator Reid recognizes that it will take some time for people to get back on their feet as a result of the economic collapse," the statement said. "He understands the need to continue programs such as unemployment compensation and COBRA which provide a safety net for those who are out of work through no fault of their own. He will be working with his colleagues to find a way to extend these programs and hopes that his Republican colleagues will join him in that effort."
After a delay caused by Senate Republicans, Congress passed a 14-week extension (20 weeks in states with high jobless rates) on Nov. 4. But that extension was to provisions of the stimulus bill which will expire after Dec. 31.
So unless Congress makes a move in the next two weeks, come January, anyone who exhausts their unemployment insurance will be ineligible for the next tier of extended benefits.
Officials said that an interruption in benefits would impose massive administrative costs on state agencies, which would need to start sending letters to some benefit recipients as early as Dec. 19 to notify them that the checks would soon stop.
"The actual deadline for many states is Dec. 19, so not only will you create confusion in the system but there's the possibility of some individuals losing benefits right around the holiday season," said Vito. "So the urgency by which Congress must act can't be overstated."
Attending the Press Club event were state government officials from Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, Arizona, Iowa, and New York, along with representatives of the AFL-CIO, the National Women's Law Center, the Center for American Progress, the Half in Ten Campaign, and the National Employment Law Project, which organized it.
Click here for a PDF of the report.