The American 99ers Union is an umbrella group of 99er advocacy groups that supports job creation, extended unemployment insurance, and Tier 5 legislation. Full disclosure: I am a member of the organization. 99ers are those unemployed who have exhausted their state maximum weeks of unemployment benefits, which in some states total 99 weeks. While job creation is a vital part of the American 99ers Union platform, Tier 5 benefits -- benefits beyond the current state maximums -- are deemed to be necessary until adequate job creation is achieved.
According to Greg Rosen, a co-founder of the American 99ers Union, "The American 99'ers Union was created for the purpose of uniting Advocacy groups from all across the Country for one specific initiative and one common cause: saving American lives while in turn rebuilding the American Economy."
When describing the goals of the American 99ers Union, co-founder, Mike White offered, "We felt that if we could get these various groups to join together for certain focused Actions (such as faxing their senators, or in the case of the latest campaign, voting for Democrats) we could reach more people while at the same time getting those people to focus on one or two specific actions. It basically boils down to the famous slogan, "United we stand, divided we fall".
From their most recent campaign -- voting for Democrats in the mid-term elections -- the American 99ers Union released a statement which said:
Anyone collecting unemployment insurance will become a 99er after November 30th unless Congress votes for an extension. This will be a huge fight, just like last July. Currently, however, there is a standalone bill, S.3706 that would create a Tier V, 20 additional weeks, for ALL who have exhausted their unemployment insurance (UI), both the "old" 99ers, and the "new" 99ers who will begin to lose UI after Nov. 30th. The bill is supported by the Democrats, not the Republicans. The Democratic Party has supported job creation, the unemployed and fought for extensions of Tiers and dates. This is the party that needs to remain the majority in Congress if any of us are to receive any help.
99ers number between 3-5 million and their ranks are growing by 91,000 or more per week, according to an extrapolation of an Economic Policy Institute graph supplied to the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on long-term unemployment. It's difficult to determine the exact number of 99ers, since there are so many variables. A Bureau of Labor Statistics representative told me that if it were easy to determine the number of 99ers, someone would have done it by now.
Why did the American 99ers Union decide to support Democrats on November 2? The group believes that they at least stand a chance of receiving some help from the Democrats. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced The Americans Want to Work Act (S.3706) in August , which would add up to 20 weeks of Tier 5 unemployment benefits in states with unemployment rates of 7.5% or greater. Sen. Stabenow brought the legislation to the Senate floor on September 29 for voice vote, but that's as far as it went. Sen. George LeMeiux (R-Fla.) objected to the voice vote. Many 99ers realize that both of Sen. Stabenow's legislative attempts were more showmanship than an honest push for 99er relief, but those two efforts are still more than the Republican's outright rejection of 99er relief and their less than sensitive appraisal of many long-term unemployed.
Republicans have consistently demeaned the long-term unemployed. Referring to the unemployed, Sen. Orin Hatch said: "A lot of people are saying, 'Hey, it's about time. Why do we keep giving money to people who are going to go use it on drugs instead of their families?'" That feeling isn't limited to the US Senate as Tea Party NC gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley supports mandatory drug testing of those seeking unemployment benefits.
Republican contempt for the long-term unemployed doesn't stop at drug testing. During 2010, Republicans have twice held up extending unemployment benefits due to deficit issues. The first time was in March when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), acting solo, blocked a 30-day benefit extension. Unemployment benefits have always been funded using emergency appropriations, but Republicans and Democrat Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) wanted to use stimulus funds. Because of that disagreement with Democrats, Republicans and Sen. Nelson held up unemployment extensions for seven weeks on benefits that ended on June 2.
With the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), the Democrats, along with the two Republican Senators from Maine, didn't have the 60 votes necessary to pass H.R. 4213, and it wasn't until a replacement for the late Sen. Byrd was appointed that the Democrats were able to block the Republican filibuster. During that seven-week filibuster, more than 2 million unemployed temporarily exhausted benefits or had benefits delayed. The Republicans did extract some legislative concessions as the $25 ARRA weekly benefit, COBRA subsidies were eliminated for new claims going forward and the legislation was effective only till November 30 and not the end of December as originally proposed.
Unfortunately, for millions of 99ers it takes 60 votes to get legislation through the Senate unless the reconciliation process is used, whereby only a majority vote is needed to pass legislation. Republicans used reconciliation for Bush tax cuts and Democrats used the same tactic for healthcare reform, but Democrats haven't used the reconciliation option for 99er legislation.
Yet even with less than overwhelming support of Tier 5 benefits legislation from Democrats, the American 99ers Union feels more comfortable working with the Democratic devil they know then with the Republican devil of "no."