July 18, 2010

No help, of course, for the 99ers, whose stressful situation is every bit as tragic as that of this latest group of unemployed Americans. Perhaps if we all dressed as bankers and lobbied Congress, they'd approve Tier 5 benefits.

And let's give special thanks to Ben Nelson, who never disappoints because we expect so little:

2,502,000: The number of jobless people who have lost access to unemployment benefits since June 2.

The Senate is expected next week to vote to extend unemployment benefits, but the delay has caused a lapse in benefits for some 2.5 million of the nation’s jobless.

Earlier this year, Congress approved up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits backed by the federal government — an addition of 73 weeks to the traditional 26 offered by the states. The duration of benefits varies from state-to-state, and pending legislation doesn’t extend the maximum beyond 99 weeks. It would have allowed those unemployed beyond 26 weeks to continue accessing the current program through the remainder of 2010. The previous extension expired on June 2.

A recent analysis by Goldman Sachs economist Alec Phillips showed that reducing unemployment benefits now would be the earliest a federal extension was cut off. In earlier recessions, the government extended benefits an average of 23 months after the peak unemployment rate was hit. The peak jobless rate in the current downturn was 10.1% in October, just eight months ago.

The House of Representatives passed legislation including a benefit extension in May, but Democrats in the Senate have been unable garner the 60 votes necessary to break a Republican-led filibuster. Many Republicans support extending benefits, but object to the proposal’s addition to the deficit. On Friday, a successor was named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd. West Virginia’s Carte Goodwin is expected to provide the 60th vote for passing the unemployment extension when he is sworn in on Tuesday.

As the partisan gridlock kept the Senate from acting, some $2.76 billion in payments to the unemployed were held back. The legislation is likely to include retroactive payments, but that is little relief for many of the jobless who needed the money immediately.

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