Although there are numerous economic indicators that show the U. S. economy is slowly struggling in a more positive direction, that positive momentum is doing little to help those that have been 99ers (long-term unemployed who have exhausted available unemployment benefits and extensions) for a considerable length of time, nor does it do much for the 30,000 or so former American workers that join the ranks of the 99ers each passing week. But, according to the website American 99ers Union, there may be a bit of financial respite in the offing. The advocacy website noted on Jan. 23 that it had been contacted by the office of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to help push legislation concerning unemployment extension benefits by reintroducing the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act.
The American 99ers Union announced Sunday it was in the process of drafting an official letter of support for the bill. “We are now working with them (Rep. Barbara Lee, et. al.),” the message read, “to advance our shared interest in extending these critical benefits to the 99er community.”
The legislation in question, H.R.6556: “The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act of 2010,” was originally introduced by Lee near the end of the 111th Congress on Dec. 17. The bill called for the addition of 14 extra weeks of unemployment benefits to Tier 1 extension benefits, which currently last for 20 weeks. The bill also called for the 14 weeks of benefits to be available retroactively for 99ers that remained unemployed at its passage.
H.R.6556 was then referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means Committee and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for consideration of the provisions within the bill that fell within the jurisdictions of each committee. And that is where the bill will remain until the Speaker of the House determines otherwise. It is that determination that Rep. Lee hopes to influence, moving to retrieve the bill from committee and re-introduce the bill for consideration of passage into law.
The bill proposed by Lee — with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus — is different than other ideas concerning unemployment extension benefits. Where most plans suggest an addition of an extra tier of benefits (there are currently four), Lee’s proposal simply adds time to an already existing Tier categorization, cuts out a reapplication process, and gets funds to existing unemployed workers who are still within the rehiring zone (the average individual remains unemployed for weeks) without having to deal with applying for the second Tier of extension benefits.
The reintroduction is a long shot at best, considering the overall general negative conservative attitude toward unemployment extensions and Republican control of the House of Representatives. The current Speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, will be under pressure by newly elected tea party Republicans, many of whom favor eradication or downsizing of unemployment benefits altogether, to kill the bill in committee or just let it languish. In short, it is doubtful if Boehner will even allow the bill to the floor of the House for a vote, even if it is pulled from committee and reintroduced.
But there is little lost in making the effort to bring illumination to the unemployment woes of the 99ers and those potential 99ers that look to see the number of long-term and benefit-less jobless rise to 8 million to 10 million individuals before the end of 2011. In fact, there is much to gain. And with economic forecasts placing the unemployment rate at over 9 percent throughout 2011, it is doubtful that conditions for 99ers will get much better on the economic front. But with the work being done on their behalf by Lee, the Congressional Black Caucus, and advocacy groups like the American 99ers Union, there is some hope that help could be on the way.
“The American 99ers Union” website