With all the claims that it represents a majority of Americans supposedly opposed to "big government programs," the right wing was unable to prevent passage in the House, Sept. 22, by a lopsided margin, of a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. Millions of workers running out of benefits in 28 states will get the extensions if the bill passes in the Senate and is signed by the president.
The measure passed in the House by a 331-83 margin with only one Republican, Rep. John Linder of Georgia, speaking out against it. He said that extending benefits would "only encourage people to stay unemployed, rather than take even low-paying Jobs." The Georgia Republican claimed that "government can't solve all ills and makes things worse by trying to."
His remarks were buried under a blizzard of comments by lawmakers around the country who rejected that analysis.
Insisting that the unemployed want to work, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., declared, "Competition for jobs is intense. Fifty percent of unemployed individuals have been jobless for more than six months. We must protect those who still cannot find work and whose benefits are about to run out." The official jobless rate in California is 12.2 percent.
Stark noted that "in total, one million workers around the country will exhaust benefits by the end of the year. We cannot allow that to happen. While the economy begins to recover and the economic stimulus starts to take hold, Congress has an obligation to ensure families can put food on their tables and pay their bills."
Rep. John Dingell. D-Mich., represents the area southwest of Detroit, which has been devastated by the collapse of the auto industry. "For the families I represent this loss of benefits comes at a time when Michigan is continuing to struggle with over 15 percent unemployment," Dingell said. "In the metro Detroit area unemployment is even higher at 17.1 percent These are not families looking for a handout, rather they are relying on these benefits to pay their mortgage and put dinner on the table. I can think of thousands of workers in my district alone who can confirm that $310 a week does not stretch far."
The bill extends unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks for over 300,000 workers who reside in high-unemployment states and who are projected to run out of compensation by today, Sept. 30.
It would also cover more than one million workers whose benefits would be exhausted by the end of 2009.
The longer benefits would go to workers in 28 states, plus D.C., with jobless rates of 8.5 percent or more. The states include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.
If the jobless rate goes up from its present 8.2 percent in Minnesota, Delaware and Alaska to 8.5 percent then workers in those states will also be included.