Renewal of Federal Unemployment Benefits Blocked in the House

Attempts by Democrats to allow a vote on a reauthorization of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) were blocked this week.  In the House, a proposed amendment to a bipartisan budget bill, which would have extended the EUC program and prevented it from expiring at the end of the year, was rejected by Republican leaders, who would not let it come up for a vote.  Late yesterday, the House passed a two-year budget agreement, but failed to address the looming shutdown of federal unemployment insurance for 1.3 million long-term unemployed job-seekers -- and for millions more who would exhaust regular state benefits next year with no access to federal aid, without Congressional action to renew the EUC program.  House majority leaders said they would begin a three week holiday recess today even as frustrated supporters of an EUC reauthorization vowed to fight on both during and after the recess.

With the House not scheduled to return until January 7, 2014, it is now virtually assured that federal EUC benefit payments will stop with the week ending December 28.  When EUC benefits have lapsed in the past, due to failure to renew the program before expiration deadlines, they have been restored by Congressional action after that lapse.  Democrats have vowed to pursue a retroactive renewal of the federal EUC program if it does lapse this time.  States have been advised to inform unemployed workers claiming benefits under the EUC extensions to continue to file those weekly claims even after a lapse of the program.  Those filings would help facilitate more timely payments of retroactive benefits should the program be restored by Congress after the New Year.

Leading advocates for unemployed workers, meanwhile, were swift to condemn the failure of House leaders to address the need to maintain federal unemployment insurance as the year-end expiration under current law rapidly approaches.

"We are deeply angered that more than one million long-term unemployed workers have been callously disregarded by Congress in its failure to reauthorize federal jobless aid as part of the budget agreement announced last night," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project said Thursday.  "While we know that some fought valiantly to include reauthorization of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in the deal, it appears that House leadership steadfastly refused to consider renewing this vital program as part of budget negotiations. This means they either don’t know or don’t care about the extreme hardship long-term unemployed jobseekers face and the catastrophic consequences that will follow for many if Congress doesn’t stop the EUC program from expiring at the end of this month."

On Wednesday Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) pressed their case at a House Rules Committee session for an amendment to avert the shutdown of EUC benefits.  But their partial, 3-month extension proposal, containing budget 'pay-fors' to offset the costs, was flatly rejected by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the committe chairman.  Mr. Sessions explained that he would not allow consideration of even the temporary extension because of disagreements with Democrats and the White House over totally unrelated issues including taxes and regulations.

Meanwhile in the Senate on Wednesday, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) attempted to bring up his bill for a full-year renewal of EUC on the floor for a vote, but his unanimous consent request was blocked when Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) objected.

On Thursday, following the Rules Committee chairman's rejection of his amendment, Rep. Levin took to the House floor, along with other House Democrats, imploring the House to allow a vote on an EUC extension.

"We want to vote. And you misunderstand if I might say so the issue. If we don't act, on December 28 1.3 million people will lose every cent of unemployment insurance. These are people who have exhausted their state benefits. They have exhausted them. These are people who have been laid off through no fault of their own. They are looking for work," Levin said.

"Historically we have never, never ended these emergency provisions when long-term unemployment has been as high as it is today, 37 percent. We have already reduced the average number of unemployment insurance weeks in this country to 54. I want to point out to the gentleman and everybody else if we don't act it, another 1.9 million unemployed people will lose every cent of their unemployment insurance the next six months."

"So, under this bill SGR is now extended for three months. We asked the Rules Committee to make in order an amendment paid for to extend unemployment insurance for three months. Here’s what we said. If we can prevent a 25 percent cut to doctors' pay, surely we can prevent a 100 percent cut for 1.3 million unemployed. And so what's been the response? The answer from House Republicans is this -- an empty box."

Watch the video:

After the several attempts to bring up an EUC reauthorization were blocked, NELP's Christine Owens issued a statement which concluded:

"And now, in their haste to scurry off for an early and long holiday vacation break, filled with fundraising events and holiday parties with tables of plenty, House leaders are poised to turn their back on millions of struggling unemployed Americans, bringing to the floor both a budget deal and a fix for doctors’ Medicare reimbursements while ignoring the urgent need to renew federal jobless aid. No one disputes the importance of addressing the Medicare reimbursement fix. But it is truly astonishing and deeply shocking that members of Congress can find a way to maintain payment levels for several hundred thousand doctors but cannot find it in their hearts even to permit a vote on preserving modest benefits that 1.3 million long-term unemployed jobseekers and their families rely on to help meet their basic needs."

"NELP calls on Congress to stay in town and do the business of those who elected them to office, and make sure that in a country with such great resources, we don’t abandon those struggling the most this holiday season."

The Senate remains in session the week of December 16-20.  Unemployed workers and their supporters are urged to call their Senators and key Senate leaders to demand that the Senate act to renew federal EUC benefits for 2014.  You can reach the Congressional switchboard toll-free at 888-245-0215 (1-888-245-0215 for service requiring a "1").  Callers across the country should call Senate Leaders Harry Reid (D-NV), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Max Baucus (D-MT).  You can also find your own Senators by state here.

While Members of the House of Representatives are in their home districts during the recess, unemployed workers and their supporters should contact their district offices.  Find your Representative here.  Demand that they support a swift renewal of federal EUC unemployment insurance for 2014.

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