WASHINGTON — Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Bobby Scott (Va.) introduced legislation Friday that would provide additional assistance to "99ers" — people who've exhausted 99 weeks of unemployment benefits without finding work.
"The economic downturn has been devastating for all of us — however, it has been particularly devastating for those who for the past two years have been out of work known as the 99ers," said Lee in a statement Friday, after the president signed legislation preserving the 99 weeks for an additional 13 months and tax cuts for the rich for two years.
"While the tax plan that was signed by the President today will provided additional unemployment benefits for many Americans, the 99ers were left out of that bill," Lee said. "That is why it is important that we put in place a safety net for those still looking for work. We cannot and will not allow our fellow Americans to fall by the wayside. Congressman Scott and I plan to continue to push for passage of this legislation because it is simply the right thing to do."
The Lee-Scott bill would add 14 weeks of benefits to the first "tier" of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, one of two programs that together give the unemployed up to 73 weeks of federally-funded benefits for workers who exhaust 26 weeks of state benefits. The full 73 weeks are available in states with unemployment above 8.5 percent.
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) introduced similar legislation in September. She told HuffPost she would advocate for additional weeks of benefits after the existing 99 weeks had been preserved.
The measures are unlikely to become law in the face of Republican opposition to deficit spending, even though several GOP lawmakers have unintentionally voiced support for giving the unemployed additional weeks of benefits.
"We're pleased to see more members of congress concerned about people exhausting all their benefits," said Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project, which lobbied aggressively for the 13-month reauthorization. "These are the hardest hit victims of the recession and we hope that in the new year Congress will finally take some action to address their plight and work on targeted job creation efforts for them."
There's no reliable estimate of how many people have been through 99 weeks of benefits and still haven't found work.