Unemployed Workers Win Campaign for Full-Year Renewal of Federal Benefit Programs

The U.S. House of Representatives tonight approved a tax compromise measure that includes a 13-month re-authorization of the federal unemployment insurance programs, on a vote of 277 to 148.  The bill, which passed the Senate yesterday, now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.  UPDATE (Dec. 17): President Obama has signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.

Unemployed workers have won their campaign to renew these essential benefit programs through the end of 2011.  It is a victory not only for unemployed workers and their families, but for all American workers – employed and unemployed – and for an economy in need of the additional stimulus that unemployment insurance payments provide.

The federal unemployment benefit programs had expired on November 30th.  A 16-day lapse in the programs resulted in more than one million long-term jobless workers being cut-off from benefits.  Without Congressional approval of the programs’ renewal, an estimated four million Americans would have lost federal benefits by the end of February.

Now, with the re-authorization made retroactive to the December 1, 2010 cut-off, those whose benefits had lapsed will have them restored.  And millions of unemployed workers and their families will have the basic security of knowing these benefits are available for between 34 and 73 weeks if needed, beyond the 26 weeks of regular state-funded unemployment insurance.  Workers who had already been eligible for additional federal benefits will have those benefits available once more.  Those workers who have been receiving regular state benefits will have the security of knowing that extended federal benefits are available to help sustain them during their job searches should they still lack new employment after six months of looking for work.

Until recently, insiders in Washington, D.C., had not given much chance for a full-year re-authorization and a continuation of full emergency federal funding for the programs.  But unemployed workers and our allies were undaunted and unwavering – and we’ve won.

Unfortunately, there is still much more that needs to be done to address the jobs crisis and the needs of all unemployed workers.  An economy that is not creating enough new jobs to bring down a 9.8 percent unemployment rate is an economy in trouble -- and in need of serious new initiatives to create more good jobs.  The fact that a key argument favoring extended unemployment benefits is their significant stimulative effect is itself indicative of the fragile state of the economic recovery.

The bill just passed does not add more weeks of benefits or more ‘Tiers’ to the existing programs.  Increasing numbers of long-term jobless workers are exhausting all available benefits.  Policies to help address the needs of those exhausting all benefits need to be pursued alongside effective job-creation and workforce re-entry initiatives, and NELP pledges to be a strong voice in that fight for as long as needed.

Winning the full-year continuation of the federal unemployment insurance programs will help sustain millions of unemployed job-seekers, give a boost to the economy, and give advocates and policy-makers the time to focus on additional efforts to help working families and build a sustained jobs recovery.

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