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Advocates Renew Push to Keep Unemployment Benefits

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Reps. Charles B. Rangel , Levin, Joseph Crowley and Danny Davis, along with Karen Duckett, an unemployed worker from Laurel, Md., plead their case Tuesday at a news conference to make sure unemployment benefits don’t expire Dec. 29.

If negotiators at the White House and Capitol Hill cannot come up with a budget agreement, automatic spending cuts and tax increases will take effect automatically at the end of the year. Levin has said Obama favors extending unemployment benefits as part of a budget plan.

“There is really no disagreement about the need for the continuation of the program,” said Judy Conti, NELP’s federal advocacy coordinator. “It’s just more about making sure that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”

Conti noted that the political dynamics of the unemployment debate have shifted, with even the conservative Heritage Foundation endorsing some form of an extension. There are “valid humanitarian reasons to extend benefits in a recession,” wrote Heritage senior policy analyst James Sherk in an issue brief earlier this year, though he argued benefits should be extended for a shorter period and to workers who had been out of work for closer to a year rather than six months.

The real danger for advocates of unemployed and low-income workers, Conti said, is that Obama and Boehner fail to reach an agreement, in which case unemployment benefits would expire automatically. Since it is the middle of winter, Conti said, even losing the benefits for a few weeks would represent a hardship for families who have already exhausted their reserves.

“There is an actual cliff for these workers,” she said. “If the program isn’t reauthorized after that, all 2.1 million people who are receiving benefits will be immediately cut off.”

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