Another reason to vote

A recent study by the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) says more than 370,000 people ran out of their temporary federal unemployment benefits in September, raising the total number of unemployed workers who have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, including the federally-funded extension enacted last March, to at least 1.5 million – a number that will continue to grow as the “recovery” falters and Congress refuses to act.

The CBPP study says approximately 95 percent of these workers “receive neither paycheck nor further unemployment benefits to help them make ends meet until they can secure a new job.” CBPP says the number of those exhausting their benefits from March 1 through Sept. 30, 2002 is three times greater than the number who ran out of benefits in a comparable period in the early 1990s.

In every state the number of workers exhausting their regular benefits this year is far higher than in 2000. In 34 states, the number was twice as high in 2002 as it was in 2000. More than 50,000 workers in each of 11 states had exhausted all unemployment benefits by the end of September 2002.

Two facts explain the increase: 1) The persistence of high levels of unemployment and 2) the federal extension granted in March (up to 13 weeks) provides benefits for a substantially shorter period of time than those extensions provided in the 1990s when federally funded programs provided up to 26 weeks of benefits after the state programs ran out. And today only three states – Washington, Oregon and Alaska – are classified as “high unemployment states,” a classification that provides federal benefits for up to 26 weeks, considerably less than the number in that category in the recession of the early ’90s.

In one of its last acts – better put, “refusal to act” – Congress adjourned after refusing – on a straight party-line vote in the House of Representatives – to provide funding for a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and a $1.50 an hour increase in the federal minimum wage. Similar legislation had been introduced in the Senate by the late Paul Wellstone.

In a statement blasting the vote, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the Bush administration has failed to address the nation’s stagnant unemployment rate and the crisis of long-term unemployment and reminded the president that his father had signed into law a program that provided 26 weeks of additional extended benefits during the recession in the 1990s.

Sweeney said the Oct. 16 vote was “a greater insult to working people than the months of inaction by the Republicans in the House. Now these members of Congress are on record refusing to pass basic and time-tested economic proposals that improve the lives of laid-off workers and low-income earners while boosting the economy. The disregard of House Republicans for working families and the indifference from the Bush administration threaten to rob millions of basic income security at the same time these people cannot find new jobs.”

And it’s an additional reason – if that were needed – to vote on Nov. 5.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com