A Contract, Broken

George Segal’s ‘Depression Bread Line Sculpture’/ krossbow Flickr

By Ben West-Weyner

Emergency Unemployment Compensation ensures that Americans who have long been unemployed, and have exhausted state unemployment insurance, are provided some form of income to help pay the bills and provide for their families. On December 28 2013, Congress let these benefits lapse.

In a climate where job growth is slow, and unemployment is high, Congress denied the extension of the program. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez pointed out the break from precedent that this lapse of aid represents in a letter to Senate leadership, writing: “Congress has worked in a bipartisan fashion to enact twelve different expansions or extensions to the EUC program” since the Great Depression.

In early March, a coalition of Senators from both parties drafted a bill that would extend the program for six months, paying retroactively for weeks missed since the beginning of 2014. Last week, the Senate passed that bill.

The proposed extension is receiving strong resistance from members of the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner characterizes the plan as “simply unworkable”, arguing that the bill would be “costly, difficult to administer, and difficult to determine... eligibility,” thus opening a window for fraud and abuse.

About 1.3 million people lost extended unemployment benefits at the end of 2013. Since then, 72,000 have had their compensation expire each week this year, totaling about 2 million jobless Americans without needed jobless assistance.

Programs like Unemployment Insurance and Social Security were enacted to prevent the United States from ever resorting back to widespread bread lines and shanty towns. We surely aren’t at that point, but it should be alarming when our representatives are willing to watch the jobless struggle indefinitely, and let needy families go it alone in times of desperation.

Use these resources to stay informed on the ongoing debate around extending Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and make your voice heard by contacting your representatives or the media.