Police arrested four people Friday during a small protest outside a New York City unemployment office. The protesters blocked the street to draw attention to the plight of "99ers" -- people who've exhausted 99 weeks of unemployment yet still haven't found work.
"It is not our shame. It is your shame, Congress," shouted Kian Frederick, an advocate for 99ers, into a bullhorn. "Do your job! Shame on you!"
Ninety-niners want Congress to recognize that there are five unemployed workers for every job opening and give the jobless an additional 20 weeks of benefits.
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced long shot bills to create those extra weeks of aid, but that effort will take a back seat in the lame duck session to the more urgent task of reauthorizing the existing 99 weeks, set to expire at the end of the month. (Some members of Congress and their staffers have been confused about the difference between helping the 99ers and reauthorizing the existing benefits.)
The extended benefits that Congress needs to reauthorize provide up to 73 weeks of aid on top of the 26 weeks provided by states. Five million people currently received the extended benefits, which are routinely enacted in response to recessions and left in place until the unemployment rate declines. If Congress fails to reauthorize the benefits, two million long-term unemployed will prematurely stop receiving checks within one month, according to the National Employment Law Project.
(Nobody knows how many 99ers there are because the government doesn't have the data to make an estimate.)
The Rochester Unemployment Examiner reported that "Kian Fredrick, Yvonne Fitzner, Joe Stanick and Debbie Kloepping were arrested, handcuffed, and spent about 90 minutes in custody before being released."
The local ABC affiliate has video of the protesters blocking the street and getting arrested. WATCH a video of Frederick's speech:
On Wednesday, a dozen labor-organized protesters spoke out against the GOP's opposition to unemployment benefits at incoming House Speaker John Boehner's office in Ohio.
CORRECTION 10/20/11: An earlier version of this article described Frederick as a 99er. She says she was advocating for 99ers but had not been out of work that long herself before she was arrested.