A petition signed by more than 100,000 supporters of extending emergency unemployment benefits was sent to members of Congress earlier today, but this example of overwhelming public support has had no effect on Senate conservatives, who so far haven’t shown willingness to allow the issue to even come to a vote.
This latest act of obstruction, if it continues this week, will start to send about 2 million unemployed people through the same hardship and chaos that many of them experienced earlier this year when Senate Republicans blocked a continuation of emergency benefits, cutting off checks to hundreds of thousands of households.
If that happens, the victims will be people like Pat McNamara, 61, who was laid off in August 2009 from her job in the consumer protection office for the city of Philadelphia, where the unemployment rate is currently above 11 percent. She told her story today during a media conference call organized by the National Employment Law Project.
McNamara said that in spite of sending “hundreds of hundreds” of resumes for jobs, including “customer service jobs that paid $7.50 an hour with no benefits,” she only managed to get one temporary position that lasted a few weeks.
“I have no other source of income,” she said, and her savings are running out. “Mostly, I worry about my daughter and granddaughter, who I can’t help anymore with their basic expenses,” she said.
McNamara’s request was simple: “Like millions of proud Americans right now, I’m counting on Congress to put politics aside and do the right thing by reauthorizing the federal jobless benefits until the jobs come back.”
“These are not lazy people and shame on those who criticize those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Judy Conti, the Federal Advocacy Coordinator of the National Employment Law Project.
During the call, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., noted that never before has the government failed to maintain emergency benefits—federally subsidized benefits that take effect when unemployed workers exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits—when unemployment was above 7 percent. It is currently above 9 percent and unfortunately does not appear it will be reaching 7 percent for some time.
As it stands now, if Congress blocks the benefit continuation, 2 million Americans will lose benefits in December and 5 million by December 2011.
A recent poll by Peter Hart and Associates for NELP showed that 60 percent of Americans favor extending current unemployment benefits and an even greater amount, 73 percent, feels that it is too soon to cut back on benefits while unemployment is still hovering near 10 percent.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., noted that many of the 100,000 people who signed the petition supporting emergency unemployment benefits were from Americans who were still employed but empathize with the struggle that millions are facing.
Casey also pointed out that for every $1 spent on unemployment benefits there was a $1.90 return in economic benefit. Unemployment benefit payments have helped save 1.6 million jobs a quarter and have allowed people who actively search for employment but cannot find a job to continue to pay the bills. It does not take an economist to understand how that helps the country, Casey said.
The right-wing insistence that the estimated $65 billion cost of extending unemployment benefits will have to be “paid for,” presumably by budget cuts elsewhere in the budget, but the $700 billion it would cost to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans is nonsense, both Reed and Casey said.
That begs the question: Who do you want to help more, the wealthy or struggling Americans?
As Casey put it, “we can’t have recovery until the whole family recovers.” We have not recovered yet, as economic growth is stagnant, but we as a nation need to help one another until we do.
Eric Hunt contributed to this post.