Jobless cry: “Save our holiday, extend UI benefits!”

WASHINGTON – Angry but undaunted, the labor movement called for a flood of emails, letters, personal visits and petition signatures demanding that the “lame duck” lawmakers on Capitol Hill approve an extension of unemployment benefits before they adjourn for the holidays in December.

Chicago Jobs With Justice members collected signatures on a petition to “Save the Holidays” in the Loop demanding that Congress act during the lame duck session to extend benefits for the two million jobless workers facing termination of their weekly checks. In a YouTube video John Bachtell said it is “outrageous” that Republicans are determined to extend tax cuts for millionaires while denying lifeline benefits to the unemployed during Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

Jobless workers and their labor movement allies are urging supporters to call the Capitol switchboard 1-877-662-2889 and ask to be connected to their Representative and Senators to tell the lawmakers to act now to extend the benefits.

The movement is reacting to the House vote 258-154 with Republican voting to block “fast track” extension of the benefits. It was 17 votes shy of the supermajority needed to break the Republican stonewall.

Earlier this month, Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO staged a picketline outside the office of House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, to protest his role in blocking “fast track” House approval of extended UI benefits.

UCubed, a pro-labor website announced an “Unemployment Insurance Lobby Day on Dec. 1” in Washington, D.C. with thousands of jobless workers and union members expected to descend on lawmakers offices to demand a full-year extension of jobless benefits.

“Unless Congress reauthorizes the current program before it expires on Nov. 30th, jobless benefits will be cut off for about 2 million workers by the end of December,” UCubed stated.

Unemployment benefits run out Nov. 30 for 800,000 jobless workers. An additional 1.2 million unemployed will exhaust their benefits before the end of the year – a grim Thanksgiving and holiday prospect for these workers and their families.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said, “The message to 4 million Americans will be that the Republican Party doesn’t care whether you have a Christmas or a way to fund your mortgage or a way to put food on the table for the next three months.”

House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “The American people, struggling with high unemployment, continue to look to their leaders for a lifeline until they get back to work. Today Democrats voted to extend unemployment insurance … unfortunately, Republicans did not. Our first priority is to create jobs…Unemployment insurance is a proven economic booster, returning $2 into the economy for every $1 invested. We will continue to work for an emergency short-term extension to get families through the holidays.”

But a group called the “99ers” consisting of 3-5 million jobless workers who have exceeded the 99-week statutory limit on unemployment compensation is urging passage of HR-6419, a bill to provide a full year of extended benefits which they would be eligible to receive. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., according to a staffer, is “working around the clock” to build support for the “Americans Want to Work Act” that would add 20 weeks of unemployment benefits in states with an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent or higher.  At least 100,000 unemployed join the ranks of the “99ers” each week.

A recent study by the U.S. Labor Department finds that unemployment insurance is even more effective than previously thought in stimulating the economy. Key findings include:

* For every dollar spent on UI benefits, economic activity increases by $2.

* During each quarter of the recent recession, UI benefits kept an average 1.6 million other Americans on the job.

* At the height of the recession, UI benefits saved 1.8 million jobs from being lost and kept the unemployment rate 1.2 percentage points lower.

* UI benefits reduced the fall in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 18 percent. GDP was $175 billion higher in 2009 than it would have been without these lifeline benefits.


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler is a national political correspondent for the People's World and member of its editorial collective.

He has been a reporter and editor for the working-class press for 43 years. He lives with his wife Joyce in Baltimore, Md., and in Sequim, Wash.