Editorial: For long-term unemployed, some progress
For those of us fortunate enough to have steady jobs with steady paychecks, it’s perhaps easy to forget Congress’s callous treatment of the nation’s long-term unemployed over the past several months. But for our neighbors who have had no luck finding work despite the allegedly improved economy, the politicking and horse-trading and back-burnering of this issue have been all too real – and no doubt galling.
That’s why it was encouraging this week that the U.S. Senate finally stirred itself to action, voting in favor of legislation that finances a five-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits. It passed by a vote of 59-38. Among the supporters were both New Hampshire senators, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte. Their bipartisan agreement was heartening indeed.
Someone who loses a job generally receives benefits from the state for 26 weeks. In 2008, amid high unemployment across most of the country, Congress approved additional aid, as it typically does in an economic downturn. At first, assistance was available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. In 2013, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, late last December, Congress let federal assistance lapse altogether.
The aid was gone, but long-term unemployment wasn’t. About 1 million people were cut off immediately, and that figure has grown in every week since. In New Hampshire, nearly 4,000 people fit into this unhappy category.
It’s too soon to declare victory, of course; nothing in Washington is ever that simple.
The action now moves to the U.S. House, where “action” might not be the appropriate term.
House Speaker John Boehner has shown little inclination to bring the measure to a vote – at least not as written. In an interview with Roll Call, a Republican House member from Ohio predicted that the measure would go nowhere unless it were attached to other proposals to create jobs or encourage action on the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, of all things. “I don’t anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of support amongst most members in the House as far as doing anything about the unemployment insurance, unless we’re assured that it actually is going to create jobs. On its own, I don’t think it does that,” Rep. Steve Chabot said.
Does putting cash in the hands of unemployed people create jobs? Actually, many economists, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, make a convincing argument that it does. Not only that, but it also helps put food on those people’s tables and keep a roof over their heads.
Here was Ayotte’s take on the vote: “Since the beginning of this year, I’ve worked to find a fiscally responsible, bipartisan solution to temporarily extend long-term jobless benefits. This legislation will pay for a short-term extension of the long-term unemployment insurance program while also seeking to prohibit unemployment benefits for millionaires. Moving forward, I will continue my efforts to address needed reforms to our federal unemployment programs in order to help ensure that the long-term unemployed have the right training and incentives to get back to work as soon as possible.”
Republicans in the House should follow her lead.