WASHINGTON -- In a meeting last week with President Obama, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus discussed a bill that would give another 14 weeks of unemployment insurance to the long-term jobless, but then said it would be too costly to do so and the matter should be dropped.
CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said after the March 30 meeting that his staff had found "the cost of that program would be between $14 and 20 billion dollars, which is cost-prohibitive," according to Crew of 42, a blog about the CBC. "So there was no point in the President saying, 'Yeah, I support it.'"
The bill, authored by CBC members Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), grants an extra 14 weeks of benefits to anyone who's been out of work for six months or longer. The bill would also provide benefits retroactively to those so-called "99ers," workers who have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of benefits available in some states.
Cleaver said during the meeting the bill is a priority among CBC members. According to Cleaver, Obama then asked Rob Nabors, the White House's director of legislative affairs, about the cost of the additional benefits. When Nabors told the president the cost would be between $14 billion and $20 billion, Cleaver suggested they move on to another topic.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. The administration has estimated that four million Americans will run out of unemployment benefits this year.
Those exhaustees' prospects for additional help are grim. Lee and Scott are meeting with House Republican leaders Thursday to discuss offsetting the cost of jobless benefits with cuts elsewhere in the budget, but the pair may not receive help from their own party. Democratic leaders have adamantly refused to "pay for" re-authorizations of extended unemployment benefits for the past year; none have suggested they would support spending cuts in other areas in order to add 14 weeks to jobless payments.
And the meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will take place as a deadline looms for congressional negotiators to agree on $39 billion in non-defense discretionary spending cuts to avert a government shutdown.
There were roughly 1.4 million people who had been unemployed for 99 weeks or more as of October, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Unemployed African-Americans are slightly more likely to exhaust their 99 weeks of benefits than their white counterparts. CRS found that 9.9 percent of jobless black workers were out of work that long, compared with 7.3 percent of jobless white workers. The unemployment rate for black workers rose from 15.3 to 15.5 percent in March, even as the overall jobless rate fell slightly to 8.8 percent.