Extension of Unemployment Benefits Blocked by Congressional Minority

Thanks to a legislative blockade orchestrated by a minority of U.S. House members and U.S. senators, some two million American workers who have lost their jobs and have been unable to find work in the current sluggish economy will lose their unemployment benefits, effective December 1. Among them are nearly 130,000 Texans.

Another million a month nationwide will lose their benefits next year if this blockade continues. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is still at 9.6 percent, and there are five job-seekers for every current opening. Never before has Congress decided to cut off extended unemployment benefits when the jobless rate was so high. And not since the 1930s have so many unemployed job-seekers been out of work for so long.

In the U.S. House last week a strong majority—62 percent–voted to pass emergency legislation to prevent the cutoff of benefits to these unemployed workers. But it takes a two-thirds majority to pass such an emergency measure under a so-called “suspension of the rules,” and the vote of 258 to 154 fell short.

In the 32-member Texas delegation to the U.S. House, the split was 12 in favor of extending unemployment benefits, 20 against. All 12 votes in favor of extending unemployment aid came from Democrats; all 20 votes against came from Republicans.

New attempts will be made after Thanksgiving to pass this emergency aid for the unemployed. Not to do so would be a truly penny-wise and pound-foolish policy. As the Center for Public Policy Priorities has noted, cutting off federal unemployment benefits before job growth is restored will end up increasing the costs of other types of federal assistance, as unemployed workers and their families are thrown into poverty and become eligible for programs such as Medicaid, supplemental nutrition assistance (formerly Food Stamps), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.