Late last week, in the final deal on the Bush-era tax cuts, Congress
finally approved a 13-month extension of emergency unemployment
benefits. It's a giant relief for the estimated 241,000 workers in
Illinois who were scheduled to exhaust their benefits by February (and
everyone else who could lose his or her job at any moment through no
fault of their own.)
Funding for the programs had expired on November 30, however, which
means insurance had already lapsed for thousands of claimants who hit
their current tier's limit sometime in December. The good news is that
those checks will be paid out retroactively as part of the package;
according to a news bulletin
(PDF), the Illinois Department of Employment Security will release
those payments "after certification for the week of December 11."
(Wisconsin began processing its claims over the weekend.) In the meantime, IDES spokesperson Greg Rivara told the Rockford Register-Star
that eligible workers should "certify for benefits through the state
telephone or Internet service to smooth the payment process." That
information is available here.
UPDATE (10:31 a.m.): Greg Rivara from IDES emails to inform PI that Illinois began processing payments on Friday night, December 17.
Perhaps the most underreported aspect of the tax deal
President Obama and Congressional Republicans struck last week was negotiators' failure to include the so-called "99ers" in the
extension of unemployment benefits. Progressives have largely focused
on the tax cuts for the rich as the reason they refuse to support the
package, but the lack of unemployment benefits for those most in need is
The term "99ers" refers to the tier of benefits to Americans who have been out of work longer than 99 weeks, currently the maximum length of aid. And even with the 13-month
extension of unemployment benefits in the compromise, an additional 4 million people will become 99ers in 2011. Shahien Nasiripour recently reported how devastating the loss of benefits would be for the economy as a whole:
diminishing support for the growing ranks of the long-term unemployed
seems certain to add to demands on an already strained social safety
net. Research shows that the longer a worker has been without a job the
harder it is to find a new one, raising the likelihood that many of
those losing their checks at the end of their 99-week term will have
great difficulty securing a paycheck.
Some in Congress are taking note. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) is pushing any tax cut deal to include 99ers, pleading
with her colleagues on the House floor to "further include those who
have run up against a brick wall, the '99ers,' as they call them, [who]
don't have any more resources but still have mortgages and food to pay
for and bills to pay." And then there was the nine-hour long speech
from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But time is running out -- the White
House plans to push its tax deal through the Senate as soon as today -- meaning the speech making and posturing will likely do little to help the soon-to-be 6 million 99ers.
As some anticipated, U.S. House Democrats are balking at a proposed
tax cut deal negotiated by the White House and Republicans on the Hill.
This morning, some members of the Democratic caucus blocked a vote
on the package, which would extend temporarily emergency unemployment
insurance and the Bush-era tax cuts for all earners, among other
House Dems are frustrated with how well the nation's rich make out under the current accord. They are particularly angry
with changes to the estate tax law, which they consider far too
generous for the wealthiest households in America (and they are right).
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is one progressive who is working hard to make
the deal better for average people. On PBS' Charlie Rose last night, she reminded viewers that income inequality is a "threat to our democracy" and that this deal exacerbates that problem. Watch it: (Here's the full appearance):
Still, there's a lot of urgency to get some type of deal passed. The tax cuts will expire on
December 31 for everyone along the income scale unless Congress approves an extension. Unemployment insurance, as we know, already lapsed. By
February, some 241,000 workers in Illinois are scheduled to exhaust
their benefits if no additional relief is provided. And the bill, as
ugly as it is, would provide some fiscal stimulus to an economy that's not chugging along at full strength.
Tim Fernholz outlined four ways the party could improve the package here.
Progress Illinois has been closely tracking the fight to extend unemployment insurance to jobless Illinoisans who are now losing their emergency benefits (check out recent posts here, here, and here). The news about a possible extension coming out of this weekend's political maneuvering in Washington is that the Republican caucus in the Senate may agree to an extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for a temporary extension of all of the Bush tax cuts.
In other words, to secure support for more than 4.2 million people around the country (241,000 in Illinois) who will lose unemployment benefits by next February, according to a new report (PDF), it looks like Democrats may have to agree to temporarily keep taxes at lower rates for everyone, including a small number of the country's wealthiest earners. The Bush tax brackets are pretty good to those at the top of the U.S.'s economic pyramid. The top 1 percent of earners, the Christian Science Monitor reported, got a windfall of $72,872 under the former president's tax plan.
Never mind that showering the wealthiest 2 percent of earners with tax breaks will bust the federal budget, costing $700 billion over the next 10 years (a one-year extension of unemployment would cost $56 billion). Never mind that the jobs picture remains bleak for the approximately 15 million people out of work, with unemployment rising last month. Never mind the stories like this one about Indiana, where around 4,000 jobless people are now losing their benefits each week. This is where the unemployment insurance debate sits at present. It's not a pretty sight.
UPDATE (1:27 p.m.): We clarified a point in the first paragraph.
The economy is still scuffling along, according to the latest jobs report released
today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Absent additional stimulus from Congress, the national unemployment rate crept back up to
9.8 percent last month. When part-time employees and folks who have
given up looking for a job are included in that total, the rate is more
like 17 percent. And the United States is now registering some of the highest levels of long-term unemployment in its history.
downtown Chicago today, allies of Chicago Jobs With Justice rallied for
more federal action to boost job growth and protect unemployed workers. Roberta Wood, who works at a community center here, called Congress' inaction "unconscionable." Watch:
Encouragingly, the White House is jumping
into the debate over insurance. President Obama’s Council of Economic
Advisers released a report yesterday that estimated the economy would
lose 600,000 jobs (because of a drop in consumption) if emergency
benefits weren't extended through 2011. The president then said that any
deal to extend tax cuts to the richest Americans must include
funding for additional unemployment assistance. By the end of the year,
roughly 127,000 Illinoisans will hit their unemployment benefit limit.
Yesterday's deadline to extend emergency unemployment benefits for jobless Americans has come and gone. When U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) blocked consideration of a one-year reauthorization in Washington yesterday, it marked the first time ever that Congress failed to provide short-term federal relief to workers while unemployment was above 7 percent. By the end of December, an estimated 127,000 people in Illinois and 2 million nationwide will exhaust their insurance. (Progress Illinois' Micah Maidenberg went on WGN Radio this morning to discuss the politics of unemployment. Listen to the whole interview here.)
But as the Associated Pressreported, it's not just the millions of unemployed who lose out when the benefits aren't extended. The AP noted that without an extension, economic growth would slow, more people would lose their jobs, and hundreds of thousands would fall into poverty. Indeed, a recent study from the Department of Labor found that unemployment insurance averted 1.8 million job
losses at the height of the Great Recession.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the effects are already being felt in the Prairie State. According to the department, there are almost 390,000 people in the state collecting benefits -- an average of $313 a week. With the weakest economy in decades and so many looking for help, it's hard to understand the logic of cutting this necessary safety net.
For tens of thousands of Illinoisans, this Tuesday is a grim one. Around 127,000 jobless people across the state will lose emergency unemployment insurance after today and thousands more could be hurled back into a weak employment market, as funding for Put Illinois To Work (PITW) -- a jobs program paid for largely by federal stimulus dollars -- runs dry at the close of business this afternoon. One Chicago employer that participated in PITW will keep on less than half of the 80 workers it was able to hire thanks to the program, with another 15 kept as temps:
CPC, a contract manufacturer and packager on Chicago's South Side,
will hire 32 of its 80 participants as full- or part-time employees and
retain another 15 as temporary workers based on demand, said Vice
Chairman Yasar Samarah. The program enabled CPC to add to its previous
workforce of 110.
An extension of unemployment benefits and funding for PITW are both held up in the U.S. Senate, which has started its lame duck session. Over the next couple of weeks, the politics of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans may very well decide if the long-term unemployed and low-income workers in Illinois and elsewhere get help once again. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday he wants to put unemployment and several tax credits "on the table" in the upcoming negotiations the tax cut extension. Watch this clip from NBC's Meet The Press (the full interview is available here):
A Durbin spokesperson told Progress Illinois this morning that funding for programs like PITW is "not dead" either, but rather part of the package that Durbin will be pushing in December.
UPDATE (5:36 p.m.): Put Illinois To Work got an extension today until January 15 of next year -- by Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, not Congress (H/T to Illinois Observer). A Quinn spokesperson said the extension will cost $47 million and be paid for by bonding a portion of the state's share of the 1998 tobacco settlement. Quinn committed $75 million in state dollars on September 30 to extend PITW through the end of November earlier this fall.