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Dems Have No Plans to Extend Unemployment Benefits

As Congress continues to negotiate unemployment benefits legislation, Bloomberg has a story this week noting what few others have: that the so-called extension of benefits isn’t really an extension of benefits at all. Rather, it’s an extension of the filing deadline to apply for existing benefits, which have been capped at a maximum 99 weeks since last fall. And Congress has no plans to lengthen that span.

That, Bloomberg writes, spells bad news for a growing group of long-term unemployed workers who have exhausted all available help.

[Lawmakers] are quietly drawing the line at 99 weeks of aid, a mark that hundreds of thousands of Americans have already reached. In coming months, the number of those who will receive their final government check is projected to top 1 million.

As we noted recently, there’s really no group keeping a tally of how many Americans are exhausting their benefits. The Labor Department, for example, defines “long-term unemployment” as anything beyond 27 weeks, meaning that some workers falling into that category could have 18 months of benefits remaining. And a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that roughly 3.4 million people have been out of work for at least a year — which again, does nothing to indicate how many folks have exhausted their government benefits.

Bloomberg, for its part, based its estimates on state figures, which paint a pretty dismal portrait of the long-term unemployment problem.

Interviews with state officials found that in New York, 57,000 people have received their last check. In Florida, 130,000 are no longer eligible as are about 30,000 Ohioans.

Those numbers will grow, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc, which projects that more than 400,000 may soon begin losing benefits every month.

For all the uncertainty surrounding the economic recovery, this much seems clear: Congress has no plans to extend unemployment benefits beyond their current length.

“You can’t go on forever,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, whose panel oversees the benefits program. “I think 99 weeks is sufficient,” he said.

“There’s just been no discussion to go beyond that,” said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.

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