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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Republicans "Balked" At Helping Unemployed In Bailout Bill

While the bailout bill has been stuffed to the gills with tax breaks, one group not included in the list is nearly 800,000 laid-off U.S. workers. That's how many stand to run out of unemployment aid on Sunday if Congress fails to pass an emergency extension of jobless benefits this week.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Jim Manley, told ProPublica yesterday that Senate Republicans had "balked" at an attempt to attach an unemployment-benefits extension to the Wall Street rescue.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spokesman, Don Stewart, said any extension bill "would be subject to debate and amendments."
A Democratic Senate aide told ProPublica this morning that senators are hoping to reach an agreement this afternoon. Unless that happens, jobless workers may just have to hope that Congress returns for a lame-duck session after Election Day.
The jobs situation looked bleak before the recent financial meltdown, and some expect that it will get worse. The national unemployment rate reached a five-year high (PDF) of 6.1 percent -- 9.4 million people -- in August. The federal Labor Department said the U.S. economy has shed 605,000 jobs this year. Some 3.5 million people currently draw jobless benefits. Business watchers have warned that job cuts will deepen as companies seek to offset higher borrowing costs in this credit crunch or simply downsize.
The House approved a jobless benefits extension last Friday, as part of a broader economic stimulus package opposed by the White House and ultimately sunk by Senate Republicans. (Attached proposals included new spending for food stamps, Medicaid and construction, and -- controversially -- a continued ban on offshore oil drilling.) Stand-alone bills to extend unemployment relief have been introduced in both houses, and it is expected that the House would renew its approval.
The estimate that nearly 800,000 workers will max out all unemployment aid on Oct. 5 comes from an analysis of federal labor data (PDF) by the pro-worker National Employment Law Project. The figure was cited by House leaders during successful consideration of a benefits extension. Asked about its accuracy, Labor Department rep Gary Steinberg said, "We can't tell you how many people might exhaust their benefits. Even if we had [the number], we wouldn't project it [publicly]."


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