Calling them “callous,” a prominent labor leader denounced House Republicans for their approach to extending unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
The GOP-led House voted Tuesday to extend emergency unemployment insurance beyond the end of the year for Americans, but only after also cutting and restricting the benefits.
“It’s bad enough that Republicans blocked bills to create jobs, but now they cut unemployment benefits for people who can’t find work,” says Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters labor union. “People can’t ‘just get a job’ when there are four unemployed people for every job opening.”
Meanwhile, independent Washington analysts also criticized the Republican approach as both unfair and potentially bad for the overall U.S. economy.
The House voted to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance (UI) beyond the Dec. 31 expiration date. However, the bill cuts unemployment benefits by 40 weeks, requires recipients to have a high school diploma or GED and charges them for re-employment services. Republicans insisted on these cuts.
“Our economy will continue to stall unless we put money in the pockets of people who will spend it,” Hoffa says. “This is a callous move by House Republicans, who apparently don’t care if America’s middle class disappears.”
Unemployment, now at 8.6 percent, has exceeded 8 percent for nearly three years, the longest since the government began keeping records in 1948.
The National Employment Law Project estimates that the cuts in the House bill would cost $22 billion in lost economic growth and 140,000 fewer jobs next year.
The changes to the unemployment-insurance system approved by the House would not only make it harder for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to qualify for benefits, but also make the system more costly to administer, according to an analysis by from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank.
The “punitive elements” of the House Republican bill “imply that unemployed workers aren’t looking hard enough for a job and that too many of them are eligible for UI in the first place,” the CBPP analysis says.
“In reality, there are about four jobless workers for every available position, so even if every available job were filled by an unemployed worker, nearly 10 million people would still be unemployed,” it says. “Moreover, unemployed workers already must satisfy numerous requirements to claim UI benefits; largely as a result, only about 40 percent of the unemployed in a normal labor market receive UI.
“Today’s economic conditions, plus forecasts that unemployment will remain high for at least the next two years, justify continuing federal emergency UI as it is currently,” the CBPP analysis says.
Some 40 percent of unemployed Americans have been looking for work for over six months, a larger share than at any time in the last 60 years prior to the current downturn, the analysis finds.
Further, CBPP concurs that cutting unemployment insurance would take needed cash out of the U.S. economy at a time when it needs it. The analysis cites the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which says UI benefits represent the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” to keep the economy moving.
Tuesday’s House vote sets up a likely confrontation with the Senate, where the Democratic majority has advocated for an extension of unemployment benefits free from the cuts and restrictions imposed by the House bill.
WATCH VIDEO OF SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID CRITICIZE OTHER ASPECTS OF THE HOUSE LEGISLATION HERE:
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.