Nearly two years after the great recession officially ended, the U.S. unemployment rate remains high at 9 percent. But, there is a movement afoot on both the state and federal level to limit and loosen restrictions on unemployment assistance that could result in a reduction in benefits for the unemployed.
Typically states offer workers who have been laid off 26 weeks of jobless benefits. And, during times of recession with long-term unemployment, Congress helps out. Currently Congress provides 73 weeks of assistance for states with extremely high jobless rates -- that's a total of 99 weeks for those without work.
Due to budget constraints, Michigan, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas have voted to cut back on state benefits and North Carolina could be next. In addition, Republican members of the House Ways & Means Committee would like to give states leeway on how to spend $31 billion in federal extended unemployment aid.
"The Republican plan takes $31 billion from unemployed workers and throws it to the states," said Representative Sander Levin (D-MI) and ranking member on the committee in opening remarks over the markup of this bill last week. "[Essentially] allowing them to cut taxes on businesses, re-pay their loans to the federal government, or fill in other state budget cuts." But that means less money for the unemployed.
Proponents of the bill obviously think those things are good for business, and in turn the unemployed because it will help businesses create new jobs for those who need them.
Much to Levin's chagrin, the bill passed out of committee and could hit the House floor for a vote as early as next week.
Levin has called this a "death knell" for the program at a time when long-term unemployment is higher than it has been in seventy years. "You have 4 million unemployed in this country that are relying on these benefits," he tells Aaron in the interview above. And, in addition to those already receiving aid, 2.6 million more people are expected to receive those benefits.
Here's the kicker says Levin, "Essentially what the Republicans are doing is reneging on what they voted for," referring to initial bipartisan support to institute long-term unemployment benefits in 2008 and then the commitment by both parties to extend them through 2011 last December. "Every Republican on the Ways & Means Committee voted to extend this program through the end of this year and now essentially they are reneging."
Time will tell what will happen on this matter. But, for the time being, Levin is baffled by what he sees as Republican's insensitive lack of support for the unemployed.
Do you think unemployment benefits are due for cuts?