A Texas Republican said Monday morning that unemployment remains high because the government pays people not to work, but he got his talking point wrong.
"With unemployment benefits going for as long as 99 weeks, we’ve seen food stamps in this country increase 40 percent in the last 40 years, so basically, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of incentive for some people to work," Rep. Randy Neugebauer told Texas radio station KFYO. "That's the reason we've got to reform some of these programs."
Neugebauer is apparently unaware that Congress already reduced the duration of benefits and partly reformed the unemployment insurance system back in February. Neugebauer might not have read the entire piece of legislation before he voted against it.
Congressional leaders and the White House agreed to gradually reduce the maximum duration of unemployment insurance from 99 weeks to 73 weeks in February. The legislation also gave states some leeway to drug test benefits recipients, required claimants to document their work searches and invited states to test pilot programs for putting people back to work.
Partly as a result of the changes, the number of people receiving unemployment compensation has been falling faster than the number of unemployed people.
Neugebauer is not the only member of Congress who has a hard time keeping track of changes to unemployment compensation.
People who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are typically eligible for 26 weeks of benefits paid for by their state government from payroll taxes. During recessions, Congress adds extra weeks. The current regimen of extended benefits is set to expire at the end of the year as part of the so-called "fiscal cliff."
As for food stamps, the U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have already begun the process of whittling the number of people receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.