For weeks now, we have been asking Congress to pass a bill to fully extend federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits before they expire at the end of the year. Instead, last Friday, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced a bill (H.R. 3630) that would drastically reduce the number of weeks of federal UI available and would hit hardest in states with the highest unemployment (Michigan, ironically, being one of them). The bill also includes several other troubling proposals, including some changes to the overall structure of the UI program – but more on those in other posts.
The unemployment rate is currently at 8.6 percent, long-term unemployment is at record levels, and the jobs outlook is very grim (remember when some Senators voted to block several jobs bills rather than raise taxes on millionaires by even one cent?). It is shocking, then, that Rep. Camp not only proposes to cut critical federal UI benefits at all, but proposes to cut them by more than half:
- First, the bill cuts back on the number of weeks of benefits available under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (EUC08). Currently, EUC08 benefits are distributed in four tiers. Benefits in Tiers I & II are available to workers in all states, and benefits in Tiers III & IV are available to workers in states with higher levels of unemployment. The bill would eliminate Tier II (14 weeks of benefits) and Tier IV (6 weeks of benefits). That adds up to a total of 20 weeks lost in the highest unemployment states.
- Second, the bill would phase out Extended Benefits (EB). At present, in states with the highest unemployment, an additional 13-20 weeks of benefits are available depending on the state unemployment rate. The bill would allow these benefits to expire, meaning up to an additional 20 weeks lost in states with the highest unemployment.
The result of these proposals is that in states with the highest unemployment rates, 40 weeks of benefits would be lost. It is difficult to reconcile any benefit cuts with the current state of our economy, let alone understand targeting the bulk of the benefit cuts at states who are suffering the most with high unemployment. It is wildly unfair to ask the long-term unemployed to shoulder even more of the burden of our struggling economy, while not asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share. These proposals do nothing but punish the victims of an economic crisis they did nothing to create.