Republican Tantrum Brings Unemployment Benefit Cut

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 26, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of people who have received unemployment insurance for more than six months could lose their benefits in early April because a Senate Republican threw an ideological tantrum and left for Easter break before getting over it. The benefit cutoff will hit communities of color hard since people of color and low income people are much more likely to be out of work. Unemployment insurance has been extended on a monthly basis for some time now and earlier this month is was put on extension until April 5th. It was supposed to extended again before the congressional recess but Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, has blocked the unanimous consent necessary to get it. Congress won’t return from break until the 12th which means there’s at least a week—and maybe more if Congress delays the process after Easter—during which many will not get their benefits. For the growing number of people without jobs, the break in payments is a scary proposition and for cash strapped states, the lapse could mean serious administrative and financial troubles. This is the second month in a row unemployed American’s have had to watch Congress play games with their immediate economic survival. Last month, Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican from Kentucky, tried to block unanimous consent for the benefit extension, arguing it should not be paid for with a budget offset but rather out of Stimulus funds so as to avoid adding to the deficit. During the tantrum, Bunning, who was once a Major League Baseball pitcher, apparently complained that debate was causing him to miss a baseball game. Bunning eventually voted for the extension. This time, Senator Coburn prevailed in stopping the extension based on the same argument. On April 5th at least 212,000 people will lose unemployment and with each passing week, more will be cut off, according to the National Employment Law Project. A million could see their benefits terminated by the end of the month of April if the program is not immediately extended after the recess. Along with the loss of unemployment benefits, some will also see their COBRA health insurance benefits halted. “This is Bunning all over again but worse because they beat Bunning last time and found a way to pay. This time, people are really worried,” said Maurice Emsellem, Policy Director at the National Employment Law Project. Earlier this month the House and Senate passed bills to extend unemployment insurance through the end of the year but the two bills have yet to be reconciled and until they are, the program will continue to be subject to monthly extension fights like this one. Unemployment remains around 10% and is well above that for people of color. Blacks and Latinos faced 16% and 12% jobless rates and unemployment among the very lowest income Americans was around 30% at last count. Unemployment insurance is about the only thing many families have to stop a fall into homelessness.