Reps. Lee and Scott Introduce Bill to Expand Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Calling attention to the plight of long-term unemployed workers who have exhausted all available unemployment benefits, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) today introduced a bill designed to add 14 more weeks to the federal Tier I benefits available in all states, and urged a "comprehensive approach" to help address the needs of the increasing numbers of benefit exhaustees.

At a press conference today on Capitol Hill to announce the introduction of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act, Rep. Lee said that "too many workers are experiencing a true state of emergency" and "have been out of work far longer than they ever imagined."

"Many of them today," she said, "stand on the brink of personal financial ruin."

The bill does not promote a new 'Tier V' but instead would add 14 weeks to the current 20 weeks of federal Tier I Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits, and would make those added weeks available to those who have already exhausted their benefits.  The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is one of several organizations supporting the measure.

Writing in the Huffington Post this week, Arthur Delaney called the bill a "longshot", noting:

Given Republican hostility to additional deficit spending -- Lee's office said the cost of the extra benefits would not be offset -- the effort will likely amount to little more than a reminder that long-term unemployment persists even though much of the nation's political discourse is focused on signs of economic recovery.

Rep. Scott today cautioned that "the introduction of this legislation is no guarantee that it will actually pass," but said he sees it as part of what he hopes will be "a comprehensive appraoch that we need to get chronically unemployed people back to work."  Scott called for new jobs creation programs and a comprehensive training program "to prepare people for the jobs of the future." 

According to a release provided at today's news conference, current co-sponsors of the bill are:  Representatives Alcee Hastings, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John Conyers, Donald Payne, Dave Loebsack, Al Green, Mazie K. Hirono, Raul Grijalva, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Marcia L. Fudge, Gwen Moore, Danny Davis, Elijah E. Cummings, Keith Ellison, Corrine Brown, José E. Serrano, and Hank Johnson.

Among those also attending the news conference were Gregg Rosen, co-founder of the American 99ers Union, several unemployed '99ers' who have exhausted available benefits, and Dr. Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

In her remarks, Dr. Shierholz said:

"While the labor market has now been adding jobs for almost a year, we are still near the bottom of a very deep hole.  There are simply not yet enough jobs to put our unemployed workers back to work.  Consider this:  in December, the most recent data available, there were 3.1 million job openings.  But there were 14.5 million unemployed workers.  That translates into 4.7 unemployed workers for every job opening.  In other words, for close to 4 out of every 5 unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs.   That is why people are getting stuck in unemployment for very long periods."

"I don’t think anyone would suggest that workers en masse have all of a sudden become less hard-working or less effective job seekers over the last three years.  Instead, over the last three years the bottom dropped out of the labor market."

The severity of the unemployment crisis and the prolonged period of insufficient job growth have combined to swell the ranks of jobless workers exhausting all available unemployment benefits.  A recent Congressional Research Service report estimated that the number of people who had been unemployed for more than 99 weeks had increased ten-fold over the last three years, up by over a million from around 140,000 to roughly 1.4 million as of October 2010.

The practice of some employers discriminating against the unemployed in hiring has, no doubt, only exacerbated the problem.

In urging that the needs of all unemployed workers, including long-term jobless workers and benefit exhaustees, be addressed by a comprehensive set of solutions, Rep. Scott added "we need to make sure that we work as hard as we can to help those who are most in need."


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