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Sheila Jackson Lee: Include 99ers In Tax Deal

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WASHINGTON -- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said on the House floor Thursday that any deal to preserve tax cuts for the rich ought to include help for people who have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits and still haven't found work.

President Obama on Monday cut a controversial deal with congressional Republicans to preserve extended unemployment benefits for 13 months in exchange for two years of continued tax breaks for the wealthy.

Jackson Lee said the deal should "further include those who have run up against a brick wall, the '99ers,' as they call them, [who] don't have any more resources but still have mortgages and food to pay for and bills to pay."

Congress failed to reauthorize long-term jobless aid programs that provided up to 73 weeks of aid for workers who exhaust the standard 26 weeks provided by states. The programs lapsed last week, but were included as part of Obama's tax deal, which, despite opposition from congressional Democrats, is expected to pass.

More than 800,000 long-term unemployed have already been cut off from benefits, and an additional 1.2 million will be dropped by the end of the month absent a reauthorization.

Efforts to restore the benefits without attaching them to tax cuts for the rich have failed, though some have said at least a short reauthorization would have been possible without Republican support.

Ninety-niners have been left out of the debate -- except in the sense that many members of Congress and the media incorrectly assume that the current debate is about extending additional weeks of benefits instead of simply preserving the status quo. It's not likely 99ers will be included in the deal. Jackson Lee's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House estimates that even if the benefits are reauthorized, four million people will run out of benefits next year (though not all of them will be 99ers, since states with lower unemployment rates don't offer 99 weeks of benefits -- in fact, the government doesn't know how to track 99ers).

It's only the second time the term "99ers" has been used on the floor of the House or Senate, according to the congressional record. The previous instance was when a bill to give 99ers an additional 20 weeks of benefits was blocked in the Senate in September.