The Times West Virginian

January 3, 2014

Compromise over extending unemployment benefits needed

Times West Virginian

— Last month, the U.S. Congress broke its typical gridlock and reached a compromise on a budget bill.

What was not included, however, was the extension of a five-year federal program that provided unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. The end of the program last Saturday affected 1.3 million people immediately and could affect hundreds of thousands more who remain jobless in the months ahead if a legislative remedy is not found. Under the program, the federal government provided an average monthly stipend of $1,166.

The program is backed by President Barack Obama’s administration and Democrats in Congress, but many Republican lawmakers have balked at its $26 billion annual cost. Since 2008, the program paid out benefits to the unemployed after their 26 weeks of state benefits ran out. At its peak, the program offered up to 73 weeks of federal benefits — which are typically offered during periods of high unemployment.

We encourage Congress, with compassion for the millions of American affected, to continue last month’s trend and work toward another compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this week that there will a Senate vote Monday on extending the long-term jobless benefits. He’s confident the bipartisan legislation will pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate, but it faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are in the majority.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed. The measure would continue the federal jobless program for three months while a compromise is sought.

“I hope we can get that done,” said Reid.

“I’m happy to see Dean has joined us. He’s broken away from the tea party folks who don’t want to do anything.”

Heller said in introducing the bill last month before the holiday break that that “providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government.”

It should not be a partisan issue. President George W. Bush, in 2002, noted that out-of-work “Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for the mortgage or rent, food and other critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down.”

Even though those collecting state or federal unemployment benefits must demonstrate their efforts to find job — an essential requirement — there have been comments from some quarters demeaning those who don’t quickly find new positions when they lose their jobs.

“I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said last month. “Beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group.”

James Sherk, a labor policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said extended unemployment benefits can give workers “a false sense of how much time they have before they have to start broadening their net to less-than-ideal positions.”

It’s not that simple when you’re dealing with people in danger of losing their homes, their way of life, even their families.

There is improvement in the nation’s economy, but it’s not back to the pre-recession level.

Congress is days away from an opportunity to help so many Americans who want to work. It’s time to forge another compromise.