Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced a bill Wednesday that would provide extra weeks of benefits to people who've reached the end of their unemployment insurance lifelines. The measure would provide 20 extra weeks of unemployment benefits and extend a tax credit for businesses that hire workers who've been unemployed for 60 days or longer.
"Across our state, more than 35,000 people who have lost their jobs have also exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits," said Stabenow in a statement. "I know that these men and women want to work and have been trying their best to find jobs in this difficult economy."
Through June and much of July, the Senate was locked in an epic struggle just to reauthorize existing benefits for people who've been out of work for longer than six months. Many Republican senators suggested that the extended benefits, which in some states provided up to 99 weeks of help, discourage people from looking for work and make the recession worse.
A study by the San Francisco Federal Reserve found that the extended benefits "have not been important factors in the increase in the duration of unemployment or in the elevated unemployment rate."
In a strong economy, state governments provide layoff victims 26 weeks of benefits. In normal recessions, states and the federal government partner to provide an additional 20 weeks. To fight the worst recession since the Great Depression, Congress in 2008 and 2009 passed several measures to provide up to 53 additional weeks of federally-funded benefits, broken into four "tiers." The Labor Department estimates that 1.4 million people have exhausted all available tiers.
The National Employment Law Project applauded Stabenow's bill. "NELP commends Senator Stabenow and her co-sponsors of the Americans Want to Work Act both for being champions of those hardest hit by the recession, but also for keeping the focus on the most important thing -- getting those who have exhausted their benefits back to work," said NELP's Judy Conti in a statement to HuffPost. "We need to support these workers and their families both in their efforts to stay afloat while unemployed through no fault of their own, but equally importantly, in their efforts to find work and rebuild their lives after the devastation of such prolonged unemployment."
The "99ers" have clamored for a Tier 5 via grassroots online organizing. Stabenow's bill would provide 20 weeks of additional benefits in states where the unemployment rate is above 7.5 percent. It's not clear whether the bill would impact the deficit or if it's "paid for," in budget parlance. The text of the bill is not yet available.
It's also not clear when or how the bill could pass the Senate, which adjourns for its August recess this week. Republicans have insisted that domestic spending bills be paid for, but this week they nevertheless attempted to filibuster a bill to provide aid to states that would have reduced the deficit by $1 billion. And a few Democrats have said they do not support giving the unemployed additional weeks of benefits.
But a refusal to help the unemployed contrasts sharply with willingness to help the rich. "We've got people on the [Senate] floor now saying they believe there's sufficient capability to eliminate the estate tax, to give billionaires very large tax cuts," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) told HuffPost. "A country that can do that coming through the deep recession that we've had ought to be able to help those who are chronically out of work, even beyond the 99 weeks."
Stabenow's bill is cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.