By John Arthur Hutchison
As the economy continues efforts to recover, millions of workers remain unemployed and cannot find work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the nation's unemployment rate was at 9.5 percent in June. The number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for 27 weeks and longer, was 6.8 million. These individuals made up 45.5 percent of unemployed people.
The U.S. Senate is slated to continue debate today and possibly vote to extend unemployment insurance benefits that expired a few weeks ago for about 2 million people. Normally, unemployment insurance lasts 26 weeks unless extensions are granted by the government. The measure under debate would extend the benefits through November and would protect an additional 1.2 million people slated to lose their benefits by the end of this month, according to the White House.
U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jack Reed, D-R.I., conducted a conference call Monday afternoon to discuss the issue. They also cited a new report released by The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., think tank.
"Roughly a quarter of the unemployed have been jobless for more than a year," the report states. "In this context, more than 2 million unemployed workers have already lost their unemployment insurance benefits because of the failure to renew the program that provides extended benefits to the long-term unemployed.
"This is unfortunate because providing unemployment benefits during a recession fulfills two important national needs: assisting those most hurt by the recession and generating jobs in the midst of a deep downturn."
Brown said many of the senators who don't support the proposal must think that unemployment is welfare and not insurance.
"When you are working you pay into those funds," Brown said. "Most people would rather not collect on their insurance."
U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, maintains his concerns about adding to the federal deficit must be addressed before he can support the bill.
"I have supported tens of billions of dollars in assistance for unemployed families in Ohio thus far and last week supported another unemployment insurance extension which was paid for," Voinovich said in a statement released June 30. "Unfortunately my Democratic colleagues blocked that amendment offered by Sen. John Thune which also would have paid for tax extenders without borrowing money on the credit card of our children and grandchildren."
The senator's office on Monday said his position remained the same. Voinovich has said he would support extending unemployment insurance if Democrats would be willing to use some of the estimated $40 billion in unspent stimulus money to help offset at least half of the stand-alone unemployment insurance extension bill.