Just a few minutes after passing the financial markets bailout bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed emergency unemployment legislation that would extend unemployment benefits to eligible workers in every state. This on the heels of news that 159,000 jobs were lost in September, more than doubling the number of jobs lost in August and the most in five years, leaving unemployment rates at 6.1 percent.
The bill, the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008 sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, passed overwhelmingly 368-28 with 38 members not voting. Idaho Congressman Bill Sali joined the 27 other Republicans voting against the bill while 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson voted in favor.
How Congressman Sali justifies this vote in light of the serious economic crunch facing many Idahoans is unclear. He'll likely claim that he's being fiscally conservative.
HR 6867 Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008 — To provide for additional emergency unemployment compensation.
Clerk of the House
Congressman Sali — No
Congressman Simpson — Yes
Republican Position — Yes
Democratic Position — Yes
Result — Passed 368-28 with 38 not voting
State-funded unemployment benefits are available for just 26 weeks; the national average unemployment check is $280 a week, with the amount varying by state and your previous earnings. After that, under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program signed into law by President George W. Bush on June 28, the federal government provides up to another 13 weeks. (You get the same amount you got from the state.)
But 39 weeks isn't long enough for some workers in the current economy. Next week, unemployment benefits are set to run out for nearly 800,000 people who lost their jobs earlier. Advocates for the unemployed and some politicians--including a lot of Democrats and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California--are pushing for federal benefits to be extended for another seven weeks (and for 13 weeks in states with the highest unemployment rates.)
"This is something Congress and the president can do something about," argues Maurice Emsellem, the policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. "They should be expanding benefits given the surging level of unemployment."