Congress should extend benefits

Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 27, 2013

When Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders met early this month to create a new budget deal, they were unable to come to an agreement to continue the federal unemployment insurance program.

Under the program, the federal government provided extra unemployment benefits to workers who had been out of work for more than 26 weeks. While all states provide some sort of unemployment insurance, these benefits only last 26 weeks. With the help of the federal government, states were able to extend these benefits past the standard 26 weeks.

When the federal unemployment benefits expire today, more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed will lose their benefits. In Alabama, any worker who has been unemployed for more than 26 weeks will lose his or her unemployment benefits. Alabama currently provides unemployment insurance for between 43 and 63 weeks. Approximately 0.6 percent of Alabama’s workers are currently receiving extended unemployment benefits.

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These benefits only average $300 a week, and, in order to qualify for the benefits, recipients must have lost their job through no fault of their own. These benefits do not subsidize people who have never worked.

Now more than ever, the long-term unemployed face difficulty in finding employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening in America. Long-term unemployment is at its highest rate since World War II.

The long-term unemployed also often face discrimination when applying to new jobs. Employers assume that there is something wrong with these workers since they have been out of work so long. According to the Roosevelt Institute, once a worker has been unemployed for 27 weeks, there probability for finding a job in any given month falls from just under 40 percent at five weeks of unemployment to 12 percent.

Providing the unemployed with benefits does not just benefit the unemployed. It also benefits the economy. Since the unemployed use these benefits on necessities, almost the entire benefit check goes in to the local economy. Once the unemployment benefits expire, this money will no longer be around to stimulate the economy.

When Congress reconvenes in January, Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, will propose a bill that will extend the federal unemployment benefits for an additional three months at a cost of $6 billion. Extending the federal unemployment benefits for an additional year will only cost $25 billion.

Compared to what the government spends on defense and farm, coal and oil subsidies, this seems like a drop in the bucket. Hopefully, Congress can come together to help out the Americans who need it the most.