by Emily J. Martin, Vice President,
National Women's Law Center
The Senate is now in recess until April 12, and word is that Senate leadership will not recall Senators back to pass extended unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies before those benefits lapse on April 5. Last week, an attempt to extend these benefits was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. As a result, more than 200,000 unemployed workers will lose their unemployment benefits at the beginning of April.
The most frustrating part of this dynamic is that everyone expects Congress to ultimately approve these extensions. In fact, both the House and the Senate have already voted to extend unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies (the House through June and the Senate through December), but because these two bills differ in their details, a final version must be worked out after recess. Despite Congress’s votes to extend unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies, because of Senator Coburn hundreds of thousands of workers will have to figure out how to make ends meet as they lose benefits next week. Moreover, state unemployment agencies will have to take up the burdensome and expensive task of closing thousands of cases and then reopening them a week or two later if Congress retroactively extends assistance.
Two months in a row of these unnecessary and painful disruptions are two too many. When Congress returns to D.C. in two weeks, it must quickly finalize the extension of unemployment insurance benefits and COBRA subsidies through the end of the year. But that is just the beginning of a meaningful jobs agenda. Last week, the House passed a job bill aimed at small businesses that included an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency fund through 2011. The TANF emergency fund provides subsidized jobs and assistance for low-income parents—a group in particular need of targeted job creation. A minority of Senators blocked an extension of this fund last month; this time around, the Senate needs to give low-income parents the help they need. Congress should also pass legislation recently introduced by Representative George Miller, of California, which would create and save one million jobs in local governments and non-profits, employing teachers, police officers, librarians, and child care workers across the country. It’s past time to make a real commitment to job creation and support for the unemployed.