Why Is Congress Scrooging the Unemployed?

December 26, 2013

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.

Congress has been hard at work on a budget deal, and that’s a good thing. But the deal leaves the unemployed in the dark right when they may need unemployment insurance the most.

The House and Senate have agreed upon a budget proposal that will keep the government open over the next year, so we don’t have to worry about another government shutdown in January. No more governing crisis-to-crisis — it looks like there is actually bipartisan agreement that government needs to return to regular and responsible budgets. Also, there’s some additional funding for domestic discretionary programs, such as education. But that’s it for good news.

The agreement keeps most harmful sequestration cuts in place, although it slightly mitigates their impact this fiscal year. The deal calls for $85 billion in savings over the next decade by requiring new federal workers to contribute more to the pension fund, decreasing cost of living adjustments for military personnel, and adding new air passenger travel fees. About $62 billion of the revenue goes toward replacing part of sequestration over the next two years while the remaining $23 billion would go toward deficit reduction.

Woman holding “OPEN ALL of the government” sign

We don’t have to worry about another government shutdown in January, but that’s it for good news. Image by the American Federation of Government Employees

Additionally, Congress has squandered the opportunity to identify new revenues and close superfluous corporate tax loopholes. Instead, legislators seem insistent on sticking to a path of austerity targeted directly at the poor and middle class. Once again, Congress is missing the point: We can’t cut our way to growth!

But most heartbreaking at all is the deal’s lack of any extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, who will now see their benefits cease at the end of the year. It’s estimated that 1.3 million out-of-work Americans will lose their unemployment insurance on December 28, and another 800,000 or so workers will fall out of the program in the coming months. Happy holidays, indeed.

It’s hard to be unemployed, even in a good economy. It’s even harder to believe Congress could adjourn without providing relief for these men, women, and families. Their failure to extend long-term unemployment has the same effect as voting “no” on helping the unemployed. So when you get that holiday card or new calendar from your congressman this year, remember to give him or her a call to ask why Congress scrooged the unemployed this year.

Learn more about these issues and AAUW’s work to promote a sensible budget to serve the needs of women and their families.

Beth Scott By:   |   December 26, 2013

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