Budget 101: Extending Unemployment Insurance Benefits
This post is part of AAUW’s Budget 101 blog series, where we explore sequestration and the federal budget and how they affect Americans’ lives and AAUW priorities.
Today we’re going to talk about why unemployment insurance should be extended. Back in December, the House and Senate (finally) agreed on a budget deal to keep the government open over the next year, but that agreement lacked a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
In a normal economy, unemployment insurance — in the form of weekly checks — would be available for up to 26 weeks to people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. But as the recession hit, lawmakers created a program in 2008 called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which allowed people to receive anywhere from 14 to 47 additional weeks of benefits depending on their state’s unemployment rate. A resident of a state with a higher unemployment rate would be eligible for more weeks of benefits. Congress allowed this program to lapse in December 2013.
As of this month, 3.6 million people (almost 36 percent of all unemployed) have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, which means that they still need unemployment insurance beyond the initial 26 weeks. Since Congress let EUC lapse, about 1.8 million Americans have lost their unemployment benefits, and another 72,000 lose them every week. A procedural vote on extending the program failed by one vote in the Senate earlier this month, and the chamber is struggling to find ways to pass the legislation. On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has shown little appetite for taking up this issue.
Real harm is coming from Congress’s inaction. Unemployment insurance helps struggling families stay out of poverty. In 2012 alone, unemployment insurance kept more than 1.7 million people, including 655,000 women and 446,000 children, from falling into poverty. It’s time for Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits.