In a change from what usually throws a wrench in the legislative process these days – right-wing opposition – a House-passed bill to give another 13 weeks of jobless benefits to those in states where the jobless rate is 8.5 percent or higher has stalled in the Senate because lawmakers from states with lower unemployment want their states included.

With hundreds of thousands having already exhausted their benefits or about to run out of them, Senate leaders are struggling to strike a compromise.

The original proposal by Democratic Senate leaders was to give four weeks of additional benefits to the unemployed in all 50 states and 17 weeks to those in the 27 states where the jobless rate is 8.5 percent and above.

That plan drew fire from senators representing the 23 states that wouldn’t qualify for the longer extension.

“Unemployed workers face equally severe challenges no matter what state they live in, and they should be given the support they need,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in calling for passage of legislation extending benefits everywhere.

Shaheen, 15 other Democrats and two independents signed a letter to Senate leaders saying it was unfair that hundreds of thousands of workers in states with lower rates of unemployment would be excluded under the House plan.

The letter from the 17 senators comes one week after another letter from 24 other Democratic senators, all of them from states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or above. The letter, written by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, urged “swift extension of unemployment benefits to help jobless workers in an extraordinarily weak labor market.”

The House bill passed last week by a 331-83 margin.

A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that more than 80 percent of the projected 1.3 million people who will exhaust their benefits by the end of the year come from states where the jobless rate is at least 8.5 percent.

California, hardest hit with an unemployment rate of 12 percent, will see 154,000 running out of benefits by the end of the year, if nothing is done.
In Florida, with a 10.7 percent jobless rate, the same thing will happen to 114,500 workers.

The official unemployment rate nationally is now 9.7 percent and is soon expected to surpass the 10 percent mark.
A third of the officially unemployed have been without a job for at least six months, far more than in previous recessions. There are currently six to eight people looking for every available job.

The states provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Congress has stepped in several times over the past two years to either extend the length of benefits or to boost state unemployment funds.

$25 of federal money was added last February to the average $300 weekly check beneficiaries receive because of the stimulus act.

The 23 states not included in the House bill that the senators want to also include are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.