House approval of a narrow bill designed to extend unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans places the burden for final passage squarely on the Senate, where Republicans have stood in the way of a vote on such legislation for weeks.
House members voted Thursday to pass H.R. 5618, the Restoration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, on a 270-153 vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi notes that nearly 80 percent of House Republicans voted “no” on the extension, which is required as unemployment benefits have begun expiring for millions of jobless Americans.
“Earlier today, a Republican Member of this House spoke on the plight of millions of unemployed who are losing their unemployment insurance, saying, he came to the floor with a heavy heart,” says Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think the unemployed in America welcome heavy hearts, but if there isn’t a helping hand, a heavy heart doesn’t work. Those who are still unemployed should not suffer due to the indifference of Republicans in Congress.”
The bill, which would extend unemployment insurance benefits through November, now goes back to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. The Senate GOP has upheld a filibuster of unemployment extension legislation for weeks.
Further, the Senate left Washington for the annual congressional July 4 recess, which means senators won’t try to approve the extension again until July 12 — at which point 2.5 million unemployed Americans will have lost the supplemental income many of them require to keep their heads above water while they seek work.
The average unemployment insurance, the level of which is set on a state-by-state basis, is about $300 a week, or roughly half of a worker’s previous wage on average, Levin says. For a family of four that average check is only 74 percent of the poverty level, he adds.
“These basic facts should refute the notion that those who are unemployed, who would have no benefits, are not looking for work,” Levin says. “Indeed, the reality is very clear. For every job available there are five unemployed workers. This issue is fundamentally an emergency for our country and our economy. Unemployment benefits have been considered, and passed as emergency spending under both Democratic and Republican Congresses and administrations.”
The federal government on Friday reported that the nation’s unemployment rate dipped only slightly in June, to 9.5 percent. The private sector added just 83,000 jobs in June, while the economy lost 125,000 jobs overall as temporary Census workers ended their jobs.
Meanwhile, Leo Hindery, chairman of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation, says the real unemployment rate from June – 18.5 percent, down from May’s 18.9 percent. The data released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t account for all categories of unemployment.
“There is no excuse for voting ‘no,’” Levin says. “It has been noted that the Senate is out of session. We must pass this so it is the first item of business when they return. The only reason this extension has not passed the Senate in recent days is because there could not be found more than two Republicans to vote for this extension. That is a shame and it is shameful.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.