In February, Republicans took a “you’re on your own” stance while anxious, out-of work Americans feared losing basic federal benefits to protect their families during the greatest economic crisis in generations. Opposition by Senate Republicans blocked Senate passage of the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits (H.R.4691), COBRA tax credits, and other important measures. The delay, led by Senator Jim Bunning, caused tens of thousands of Americans to go without their unemployment checks and Senate Democrats worked furiously to overcome the Republican filibuster.
This political stunt demonstrated that Republicans are more interested in helping out Wall Street and wealthy CEOs than middle-class Americans struggling to provide for their families. The extension was ultimately passed by a vote of 78 to 19 and was signed into law (P.L. 111-144) by President Obama in March. [Roll Call Vote 32]
Republicans Grinded Government to a Halt for Six Days – Allowing Benefits to Expire and Betraying Jobless Americans
Senate Democrats asked for an agreement to extend unemployment benefits and other expiring provisions numerous times during the six-day stand-off with Senator Bunning and his fellow Senate Republicans. Senator Reid even offered Senator Bunning a chance to introduce an amendment to address his concerns, but he refused in order to further delay the payment of benefits.
At a time when the unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent and nearly one in ten Americans are unemployed, Senate Republican obstructionism is especially outrageous. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Situation] These benefits serve as a lifeline to Americans struggling to find a job in our weakened economy.
States typically offer 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to unemployed Americans who have lost their job through no fault of their own. When these benefits are exhausted, which is much more common today than in the past, the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional 53 weeks of benefits. With the addition of federal extended benefits, the unemployed are eligible to receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment compensation. This extension was meant to allow individuals who have exhausted state benefits to continue to receive federal benefits.
In February, 5.6 million individuals relied on unemployment compensation to support themselves and their families. [National Employment Law Project, 2/2010] The need for an extension of federal benefits was particularly important because of the increase in the number of long-term unemployed. Today, there are roughly six job applicants for every one position, an astounding and discouraging reality for millions. [Washington Post, 3/9/10] Sadly, more than 6.1 million individuals have been out of work for more than six months. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Situation] Senate Democrats understand that these Americans want to begin working again and depend on these benefits to get by until their next pay check.
Democrats understand this is about people, not procedure
The expiration of unemployment benefits has serious consequences for American families. Millions of unemployed Americans could have lost benefits in March had Senate Democrats not convinced Senate Republicans to give up their political posturing. According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 1.2 million Americans could have lost their benefits by the end of March due to the expiration of benefits. [National Employment Law Project, 2/2010] Even with the eventual passage of the bill, there have been unfortunate consequences for many families.
· The unemployed are forced to live off of savings. Joe Orr, a father of three in Atlanta, has been out-of-work for more than 14 months. In late February, he received an e-mail alerting him that he would lose his benefits because of Republican delays in the Senate. Mr. Orr receives just $330 in benefits a week to support his family and must use his savings to support his family. Mr. Orr was concerned that they he may have to sell their home. He had a message for Senator Bunning: “get a reality check.” The delays and continued unemployment threatened the Orr family’s ability to pay their mortgage. [CNN, “Jobless dad to Sen. Bunning: ‘Get a reality check,’ 3/3/10]
· The unemployed are forced to stop taking medication. Jean Eisen, of Beuna Park, California, lost her job more than two years ago. Because her benefits have completely expired, she has had to forego her prescription medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She is also relying on food banks to feed herself and her husband. They have depleted their savings and now rely on credit cards to maintain their apartment. After spending countless hours looking for a job, she believes that “any job is a good job.” [New York Times, “Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs, 2/21/10]
· The unemployed are relying on assistance for the first time in their lives. Cher Horner of Naples, Florida lost her job in November 2008, more than 15 months ago. She had never filed for unemployment benefits before. Ms. Horner’s unemployment benefits expired, due to Senate Republican obstructionism, at a particularly sad time in her life. Ms. Horner’s husband has recently been diagnosed with cancer. [ABC News, “Nation’s Unemployment Programs Running Out of Money, 3/2/10]
· The unemployed are worried about becoming homeless. Linda Calvin, from Kentucky, fears that she may soon be homeless. She previously worked as a Head Start caseworker before she was laid off last May. [CNN, “Jobless dad to Sen. Bunning: ‘Get a reality check,’ 3/3/10] Ms. Horner is also concerned that she could lose her home.
· The unemployed were devastated by news of the expiring benefits. Suzanne Chichester of McDonald, Pennsylvania lost her job as a temp worker at Bayer Corporation over a year ago. She learned in late February that if her benefits were not extended because of Senate Republican obstruction, she would receive only one more week of federal benefits. While Ms. Chichester has maintained her year-long job search, the possibility of losing her federal benefits was “devastating.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Unemployed worry about loss of extended benefits, 2/26/10]
The delay created confusion and anxiety. When Senator Bunning began his filibuster of the 30-day extension of expiring provisions, including unemployment benefits, he created confusion and anxiety among the millions of Americans who depend on these benefits to care for their families. Unemployed Americans began wondering how they would pay for food, mounting bills, and housing costs. Those difficult and stressful conversations around the dinner table could have been completely avoided had Senate Republicans understood the significant consequences of their actions for hundreds of thousands of families.
State administrative costs went up because of Republican obstruction. When Senator Bunning dragged out his filibuster, he created havoc at state agencies responsible for providing unemployment benefits to individuals. Many state agencies had to inform recipients that they would be losing their benefits without an extension. As states sent out letters and emails, their offices were flooded with calls from confused and worried families who were dependent on these benefits. [National Association of State Workforce Agencies, NASWA Bulletin, 2/26/10]
When the benefits expired on March 1, state agencies were forced to shut down computer systems that provided the federal benefits. Unfortunately, to restart these systems, at the end of Senator Bunning’s filibuster, states were forced to spend even more money. [Huffington Post, 2/26/10] This unfortunate situation could have been avoided had the benefits not expired and the extension been passed in a timely way.