Republican Obstructionism On Jobs Bill May Cut Unemployment Lifeline

From Working America, an AFL-CIO blog, the news that we need to start pounding our elected officials NOW for an unemployment benefits extension:

Thanks to George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project for answering reader questions about unemployment insurance.

(1) Question from Main Street blogger Mitchell Hirsch:

Thank you so much for taking time to answer reader questions and providing such clarity to what can be a confusing mass of information on unemployment insurance.

It has been reported that the Senate may take up a bill including a likely 3-month UI/COBRA extension late this week or next. If they do, and it passes, the House would still need to act on it or go to a conference with the Senate on the two bills - a time-consuming process with time running out.

Wouldn’t the House need to act to pass an extension again, then, by Feb 19 - and wouldn’t that require them to stay in session for at least part of next week despite the Presidents Day Recess? With millions of unemployed workers and their families facing the end of their benefits, shouldn’t Congress stay in session until they get a UI/COBRA extension done?

Thanks for taking the time, and for your expertise as well.

Answer: Thank you for your question which brings us up to date on events of the last 24 hours. It is our understanding that the new Senate jobs bill will include provisions reauthorizing the EUC program, federal funding of EB, the $25 supplement (FAC) and the 65% COBRA subsidy through May 31, 2010. This is one month less than the House jobs bill which extended these same provisions through June 30, 2010.

You are correct that these provisions will have to be reconciled but it is still too early to tell exactly how this will play out procedurally. (It is possible that the Senate could pass a stand-alone extension sooner than the entire jobs bill.) However, on your larger point, I absolutely agree that it is imperative that Congress act to reauthorize these unemployment insurance (UI) extensions and COBRA subsidies before leaving town. As NELP and state UI program administrators have been saying for weeks, if reauthorization is not passed by February 19th, states are legally bound to start phasing out the existing programs. This will create unnecessary hardship and confusion for unemployed workers and their families. This is why unemployed workers should immediately let their elected representatives know that it is critical to enact the unemployment insurance and COBRA provisions of the jobs bill before the February recess.

From what I hear, it looks like both unemployment and COBRA extensions will happen, but probably not in time. Even if they make it retroactive, it may delay payment for weeks. That will cause a real hardship to many struggling Americans.

The Republicans and Blue Dogs are trying to hold up this bill, apparently over aid to states dealing with Medicaid.

The real reason? Because they can.

It boils down to the same old amoral game of chicken and the problem, as always, is in the Senate.


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