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House Democrats Put Forward Tier V Legislation, Extending Unemployment Benefits for 99ers

Today, returned from the six-week August recess to vote on the state aid bill, House Democrats put forward legislation to create a fifth tier of unemployment benefits. Last week, Senate Democrats put forward similar legislation. Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) cosponsored the legislation creating a fifth tier of benefits, extending the maximum number of weeks of federal and state benefits to 119 in states with unemployment rates over 10 percent. Currently, sixteen states and the District of Columbia would qualify.

McDermott released a statement on the legislation:

Right now, there are more long-term jobless Americans than we’ve ever had on record, and we can’t just let them all fall off a cliff. I don’t believe how we can cut and run from helping unemployed workers when there are five of them competing for every available job. You only have to hear from a few unemployed workers to know how hard they are looking for work and to feel their sheer sense of desperation. Are we really prepared to just stand by and watch them sink into abject poverty?

The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans presided over the implosion of the housing market and world economic collapse, and handed us the worst economy in 70 years. Ending assistance to the long-term unemployed will reduce consumer demand right at the point when the economy is struggling to get back on its feet. It will surely increase the number of homes going into foreclosure. And it will drive some individuals permanently out of the labor force. All of these outcomes will increase our nation’s budget deficit. But even worse, they will bring about a crippling deficit of hope for the future.

Any Tier V bill will face steep odds — particularly in the Senate. Some Senate Democrats, such as Max Baucus (Mont.), have indicated they do not support adding new weeks of unemployment benefits. “You can’t go on forever,” he told Bloomberg News in April. “I think 99 weeks is sufficient.” And Republicans have indicated they will block any bill increasing the deficit. McDermott’s office did not immediately release any information on the cost of his proposal. But presumably it will run into the billions, meaning House Democrats will need to look for offsets for the bill to have any chance in the Senate. Previously, aides have told me that while numerous Democrats support the fifth tier, they have hesitated to bring forward a bill they felt would never pass.

But many feel that Congress needs to do something for the millions left adrift after their unemployment benefits end. There are approximately 1.6 million Americans who have exhausted the maximum number of state and federal benefits during the recession. And in some states, there are as many as 10 jobseekers competing for every available position.

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