This week will be a critical one for millions of Americans surviving on unemployment insurance (UI). With national unemployment hovering just below ten percent, UI benefits will end for one million Americans on February 28th, and for four million more, in the months that follow if Congress fails to take immediate action.
The impact will be devastating on families and communities, as foreclosures driven by unemployment accelerate and as small businesses lose billions in revenue from paying customers. This is why experts estimate that every single dollar of unemployment insurance benefits that is spent results in $1.69 in economic stimulus. (Read the Center for American Progress' valuable primer Unemployment Insurance 101 for background.)
Sadly, the Democratic response has been weak. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to introduce a bill later this week to extend the eligibility deadline for extended unemployment benefits by two weeks. But advocates for extending unemployment benefits say that this short extension will be "a disaster for everybody."
The problem -- detailed well by Arthur Delaney writing on the HuffingtonPost -- is that even though Congress will likely push back the deadline before extended benefits expire at the end of the month, state unemployment agencies still have to send out letters to benefits recipients informing them that they will be ineligible for the next "tier" of benefits starting next month. Without an extension, more than 1 million people will run out of unemployment benefits in March, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Moreover, the shortness of the extension guarantees that, in two weeks, workforce agencies will once again have to prepare to send out letters and Congress will once again scramble for another extension.
A short-term extension is not the answer. So, tomorrow, Tuesday, February 23rd, the new group started by my friend Mary Bottari, BanksterUSA.org, is staging a National Day of Action to Save Unemployment to make clear to Congress that UI benefits need to be extended until the end of 2010. Join the call. Other shorter term stop-gap measures currently being debated just won't help.
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