Senate Advances Unemployment Benefits Legislation

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 – In what Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called “an important victory,” legislation to renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed cleared a key Senate hurdle today.

“At a time of growing wealth and income inequality, we cannot turn our backs on 1.3 million people who would be left out in the cold without this help,” said Sanders, a cosponsor of the bill that survived a 60-37 test vote on whether to debate a three-month extension of the program. He noted that unemployment insurance kept 2.5 million Americans, including 600,000 children, out of poverty in 2012.

“It makes both moral and economic sense to help people looking for work,” Sanders added. Unless the benefits are restored and job hunters receive disposable income, the economy is expected to lose more than 200,000 jobs this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Each dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits generates $1.55 in economic recovery.

Congress has reauthorized the extended unemployment benefits program 11 times since the recession began in 2007, but benefits expired last month for 1.3 million Americans, including 600 Vermonters, who have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks. An additional 1.9 million people nationwide, including 2,300 Vermonters, will lose benefits during the first half of this year unless Congress renews the program.

Today, while there has been some modest improvement in the overall economy, there still are three job applicants for every job opening.  There simply aren’t enough jobs out there for the 11 million Americans who are actively seeking work. As a result, 37 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than six months.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was first signed into law by President George W. Bush in June 2008. At that time, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average length of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today, the official unemployment rate is 7 percent and the average length of unemployment is more than 36 weeks. At no time since 1958 has Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment has been so high.