Democrats move to extend unemployment benefits beyond Dec. 31

Inside the U.S. Capitol (Pic by ThatMakesThree, via Flickr)

With unemployment across the U.S. stuck at 9 percent, supporters of jobless benefits Wednesday called for extending the federal programs beyond the current expiration date of Dec. 31.

According to Democrats in the House Ways and Means committee:

“Unemployed workers, labor activists and members of Congress will call for a renewal of federal unemployment insurance programs, scheduled to begin to expire Dec. 31. Without action, more than two million Americans will be cut off unemployment insurance by mid-February and millions more in subsequent months. Congress has never allowed emergency unemployment programs to expire with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.”

In early November, House Ways and Means Committee Democrats introduced the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act (.pdf), legislation to extend federal unemployment insurance programs through 2012.

In a press release, House Democrats added that the Act’s introduction “comes with a looming Dec. 31 expiration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits, federal programs that currently provide Americans with up to 73 weeks of additional unemployment insurance, averaging $300 a week per person.”

The New York Times reported earlier this month that “the House failed to pass an extension [of] unemployment insurance benefits for another three months. … The vote was 258 to 154, short of the two-thirds needed for passage,” adding that “Republicans have sought to block the extension of benefits before, arguing that the spending should be offset by savings elsewhere.”

National Public Radio reported this week:

Currently, unemployed people in the hardest hit states can get nearly two years of benefits. But if Congress doesn’t act, as of Jan. 1 the maximum will drop down to six months. By mid-February, the National Employment Law Project estimates that 2.1 million people would lose benefits.

The National Employment Law Project, which will participate in today’s event in support of extended unemployment benefits, also indicates that “over the past three years, federal unemployment insurance has helped more than 17 million Americans while they’ve looked for new work in the toughest job market since the Great Depression.”

Unemployment benefits have also been source of abuse, according to The Fiscal Times, which writes that ”during the 12 months from April 2010 to March 2011, overpayments jumped again to 11.6 percent–more than $1 for every $9 paid out, a 1.6 percent increase over the historical average last decade.”

The Fiscal Times reports that, according to U.S Department of Labor estimates, “2010’s biggest overpayment benefactors—or about 30 percent– were people who have begun working in new jobs, but continue to cash their unemployment checks, and another 30 percent were people not properly or actively searching for work.

In March of this year, a report issued by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy and the National Employment Law Project found that “unemployment compensation has provided a net benefit to Florida’s economy of over $9.8 billion since the beginning of the recession, combining both the state program and federal extension programs.”

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