With the arrival of the New Year, those checks stopped for people who lost their jobs more than six months ago. Six months is the usual limit, but Congress can extend the length of time, and it typically does during times of recession. It’s the merciful and sensible thing to do.
Democrats rail against Republicans for being insensitive to the needs of citizens who haven’t been able to find a job; Republicans criticize Democrats for wanting to take money from “makers” and give it to “takers.”
But the fact is that members of both parties are wearing ideological blinders that keep them from working together to govern the country in a more orderly manner.
A message from the White House this week, intended to build pressure for Congressional passage of a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, is telling. Twice within an abbreviated fact sheet, reference is made to the unemployment benefits being “taken away” from the people who need them.
Conservatives would quickly point out that you can’t take away something from someone if it didn’t belong to them in the first place. Besides, the unemployment benefits extension wasn’t taken away; it was a temporary measure that expired at the end of 2013, and it was not renewed.
It’s a matter of semantics, but given the long-term acrimony in Washington, the choice of words was noticeably insensitive to the way conservatives view safety net programs.
Nationwide, an estimated 1.3 million people lost those benefits that were given to help people who had lost their jobs a way to sustain themselves and their families while trying to find employment. The White House estimates the number will climb to 3.6 million people by the end of the year if the benefit isn’t restored.
The majority Senate was gridlocked on the bill Thursday over questions of cutting expenses somewhere else to pay for it. The House has yet to take up the bill, and is expected to be even more critical of spending money the government doesn't have.
Concerns about a government that continues to spend more money than it collects are serious, and we don’t expect to ever see the end of debates over how to spend that money. At the bottom line, the art of politics is deciding who gets what.
But it doesn’t take a genius to understand that people who have been out of work six months or more are having a hard time financially. Those checks are intended to help them through a tough time, and while there are encouraging signs that parts of the economy are improving, it’s been a slow recovery. And those checks are not just a lifeline for those families in need — they are also an important part of the local economies where they live. Across Alabama, those 11,400 people are paying for necessities and trying to live a life as normal as possible until they can do better.
Without those checks, more jobs are threatened. The White House estimates 240,000 more jobs nationwide could be lost this year if those checks are not restored. That’s pain that can be prevented.
Some argue that “takers” won’t get a job as long as they are getting handouts, and we’re sure that is true for some people. That’s unfortunate. But it hardly justifies making a difficult situation a disaster for anyone, and certainly not for more than a million Americans.
Republicans are right to be concerned about the budget, deficit spending and the national debt. Our government needs to do a better job of bringing revenue and spending into closer alignment. That’s going to be a long-term project.
People who have lost their jobs need help now.