Following a weeklong recess, the Congress is back in session in Washington D.C. where debate over whether to renew an extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits is still heated.
Tuesday night, during his State of the Union address, President Obama said he is convinced “we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy,” and called on Congress to act fast to restore the unemployment benefits of 1.6 million people.
Republicans strongly opposed the extension back in December and have continued their objections into this session. Responding to the president’s speech Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner in a statement said, “Republicans are focused on improving employment, not unemployment.”
On average, eligible recipients receive about $300 per week in benefits. The last extension ended just before the New Year on Dec. 28th when the Senate voted down legislation to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who have run out of regular state unemployment insurance benefits during periods of high unemployment.
Recent reports from the Employment Development Department (EDD) indicate the unemployment rate decreased in Los Angeles from 10.3% in December 2012 to 9.2% in December 2013. However, some supporters of extending benefits say the data does not present a true picture of the unemployment situation, which still has many Americans struggling to find a job while many other longtime unemployed workers have stopped looking.
A report from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the oldest committee of the United States Congress and the chief tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives, states that 1.6 million Americans, including 54,000 in Los Angeles County, have lost their unemployment benefits due to Congress’ failure to approve an extension before it expired in December.
It is estimated that about 326,000 more people in California will lose unemployment coverage in the next five months.
Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA-34) is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. In a statement released earlier this month he called on the Senate — which the House is looking to for legislation before it takes up the matter — to work on a solution.
“House Republicans must drop their blanket obstruction to extending jobless insurance coverage to our fellow Americans,” he said, referring to the multiple times Republicans have blocked legislation that would have kept benefits in place.
While back in his district last week, Becerra stopped in at the WorkSource Center at Goodwill Industries in Lincoln Heights. The center helps the unemployed search for jobs, among other services.
“We need to help companies create more jobs but at the same time we cannot deny the few resources available that people need while looking for a job; to buy food and pay their rent,” Becerra told EGP. “For every open position that is available, three Americans are looking for that job,” he said.
Likewise, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) responding to the latest job numbers said that in some of the communities she represents in east and southeast Los Angeles, unemployment is still as high as “19.3 percent.” She said blocking the extension of unemployment benefits is “unacceptable.”
“Every week, the economic harm spreads even further across our nation. It’s long past time for Republicans to join with Democrats to extend unemployment insurance,” she stated.
While at Goodwill, Becerra listened to the center’s clients speak about their struggles, the same struggles he says he has heard in the voices of countless other unemployed Americans.
“I never thought I’d be in this situation because I always thought I knew a lot of people, and everyone knows someone else who may have a job,” said Diane White, who has been unemployed for almost a year and obtaining help from Goodwill. “Since I was laid off I haven’t found one [job] and I’m still here, still looking.”
Becerra said it seems many have forgotten two of the country’s most important principles: “economic security and rewarding work.”
“Every 8 seconds an American loses unemployment benefits, this must stop,” the congressman told EGP.
A majority of Republicans in both houses are opposed to continuing the extension of benefits, arguing the economy is improving and so are the job numbers. They also say the country cannot afford another extension, without cutting something else to pay for it.
There are some Republicans, however, who have indicated they would support a bipartisan solution, but who have also criticized Democrats for wanting it all their way.
“I have a number of members who feel the unemployment insurance issue is a serious matter that ought to be addressed, but addressed in a fair and bipartisan way, with the majority in the end deciding what kind of bill passes,” a USA Today quoted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY as saying.
Boehner says “any extension of unemployment benefits should be paid for and accompanied by measures that will help create jobs, boost wages, and grow the economy,” but Democrats have been more focused on the extension than creating jobs.
“One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work,” Boehner said earlier this month, noting that “to date, the president has offered no such plan.”
The House Ways and Means committee, on its website, states that “economists agree that providing extended unemployment benefits is one of the most effective job creation strategies” during a period of high unemployment. They said that “for every dollar of unemployment compensation spent it creates $1.52 in additional economic activity.” This is because jobless Americans “tend to spend their unemployment insurance right away.”
According to the analysis, in the first week after the unemployment extension expired, nearly 214,000 people in California lost the average $300 per week, cutting $65 million from the economy statewide.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost $25 billion over the next year to fund the extension if approved. However, it also estimates extending benefits for another year would save 200,000 jobs.
“Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance,” said Obama during the State of the Union.
“They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game.”
Twitter @jackieguzman