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PD Editorial: Holiday cheer is tough for the unemployed

  • Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

GOP Scrooges declared, "Bah, humbug," to the long-term unemployed just days before Christmas. With lawmakers now home for the holidays, the best hope for millions of Americans hit hardest by the recession might be Marley and his three ethereal colleagues visiting congressional Republicans some night this week.

Backslapping took place in Washington after bipartisan majorities passed a budget deal before the holiday break. On balance, it was a satisfactory accomplishment from a Congress that has done precious little else. It will reduce the effects of sequestration and cut the budget deficit by $23 billion over a decade.

More important than the dollars was the symbolism. The deal demonstrated that lawmakers are capable of negotiating and reaching a compromise. Neither party got everything it wanted, but the budget deal offered enough to attract bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The glaring omission that stands out like a lump of coal in Tiny Tim's stocking was the failure to renew temporary assistance for the long-term unemployed. At the end of this week, 1.3 million American workers will lose the aid that helps them get by until they find new jobs. And if Congress does not act soon, the pain could spread to another 3.6 million.

In California, regular unemployment benefits last for up to 26 weeks. The extended federal benefits then kick in for a few more months. The state Employment Development Department estimates that more than 222,000 Californians currently receive the expiring federal benefits.

The economy and the job market have improved, to be sure. The unemployment rate topped out at 10 percent in 2009, and it has since fallen to 7 percent in November. But that remains high compared to a decade ago.

California fares worse than the nation. The state's unemployment rate remains greater than 8 percent. That represents about 1.5 million people. Things are a little better in Sonoma County, but even here, about 15,000 of our neighbors have not found work.

The economic recovery has skewed toward advanced jobs that require skilled workers. Many people who want to put in a hard day's labor remain unable to find jobs for which they are qualified.

These are not people who simply wish to collect government checks. They are former workers who were laid off, and to qualify for benefits, they must document an active job search for the state. They also must register with California's online job listing and resume service. Most of them want to get back to work but have not been able to do so.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid insists that he will bring up a renewal bill when Congress gets back to work in January. That funding should retroactively fill the holiday hole that is about to hit. His best efforts, though, will come to nothing without Republican buy in. Senate Republicans can filibuster and the House remains firmly under GOP control.

Unlike congressional Republicans, Ebenezer Scrooge at least made sure that his nephew had some meager resources to feed his family, even before the ghostly visitations.


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