Congress Has One Task: Renew Emergency Benefits For The Jobless

Robert Borosage

As Congress reconvenes this week, it faces one overriding imperative:  Act immediately to renew emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Today, you can tell the Senate to make this their first priority. Call one of your senators now using our click-to-call tool.

A Republican filibuster in the Senate stopped the renewal on January 14.  Republican House opposition, led by House Budget Committee chair Rep. Paul Ryan, stripped the renewal from the 2014 spending bill.

Right now 1.6 million workers who have lost their jobs have been cut off of emergency benefits. That number will continue to increase to about 4.9 million by the end of the year.

The termination is obscene – and it is unprecedented.  Long-term unemployment continues at record levels. The economy is growing, but too slowly to produce the jobs we need. We haven’t even recovered all of the jobs lost since the economy collapsed.

The termination of emergency benefits is simply cruel. It afflicts only those workers who are still struggling to find work, despite weeks of frustration. Its effects are devastating. Mortgages go into default. Rent can’t be paid. The struggle simply to put food on the table for their families gets harder. Children become homeless. Marriages fall apart under the tension.

There is no excuse. In the past, we have always provided emergency benefits with emergency spending. Our deficits have plummeted faster than any time since the demobilization after World War II. Interest rates are near record lows. We can easily afford to provide vital emergency help to workers looking for work.

Republicans say the cost must be “paid for.” That, too, should not be a problem. Last year, the 13 wealthiest Americans pocketed an estimated $80 billion. If billionaires paid taxes at the rate of their secretaries, the revenue would cover the cost of the benefits.  Multinational corporations have stashed an estimated $2 trillion abroad to avoid taxes. Simply paying their fair share of taxes would more than cover the bill.

But Republicans oppose ending the tax dodges. Some argue, with no evidence to support them, that emergency benefits make workers lazy. They argue that unemployment is a hammock, not a safety net. Clearly, they spend their time talking to the 1 percent that is cleaning up in this economy, not the majority of workers who are struggling, or the unlucky who have been tossed out of work in a bad time.

Republicans agree that the economy is lousy. Yet, they seem intent not just on making it worse by blocking any additional jobs programs. They now want to punish its victims. That isn’t conservative. It isn’t logical. It is not defensible. It is simply cruel.

Tell your senators that you agree. Let us connect you with one of your senators now so you can tell him or her that you want them to restore emergency unemployment benefits.

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