PI Original Adam Doster Friday September 25th, 2009, 11:56am

Senate Considers Next Move On Unemployment Benefits Extension

Now that the U.S. House has approved
an unemployment benefit extension for states with jobless rates at or
above 8.5 percent, the attention turns to the Senate.  Unfortunately
for anxious families across the country, legislation often moves very slowly in the upper ...

Now that the U.S. House has approved an unemployment benefit extension for states with jobless rates at or above 8.5 percent, the attention turns to the Senate.  Unfortunately for anxious families across the country, legislation often moves very slowly in the upper chamber.

Yesterday, labor commissioners from 18 states called on senators to act immediately, before an estimated 300,000 workers (20,000 in Illinois) exhaust their benefits -- a number that is expected to rise dramatically in the coming months. Government data now shows that six unemployed workers are competing for every one open job. (A requirement upon filing for unemployment insurance is that a person must be actively looking for work.) Not surprisingly, the rolls have exploded over the past year and the length of unemployment for many people has stretched on and on.

Even though the latest extension proposal is popular among Democrats and unlikely to face much Republican opposition, it's still unclear when the Senate might take up a companion bill. One problem is that the legislation (S. 1647) would have to move through the Senate Finance Committee, which is currently preoccupied with health care reform negotiations. There's also serious talk about tweaking the bill to provide assistance to workers in states where unemployment isn't as widespread, a shift that will require even more debate.

Broadening the benefit extension to states with less than 8.5 percent unemployment is a sensible idea. After all, there are regional economies withing relatively-stable states that are seriously struggling. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) noted after the House vote that some 31,000 Iowans are expected to run out of insurance by the end of the year. While the state boasts a 6.8 percent unemployment rate, 19 counties had jobless rates of 8.5 or higher in August.

The justification for focusing on high-unemployment states was that 80 percentof the workers projected to exhaust their benefits by December reside in them. Limiting the bill's scope also minimizes its cost, which would be totally offset by a federal unemployment tax. If Baucus can come up with a way to offer the latest extension to all unemployed workers, that would be great news. But time is of the essence.

Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user Tony Bracjun.

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