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home : opinions :   April 29, 2016

12/17/2013 9:42:00 AM
Column: Foul-tasting stew simmers in Congress

Craig Sterrett
NT News Editor

Note to Congress: Please do whatever you can to keep my sort-of sister-in-law from moving into our already-full house.

This might sound like a joke, but I’m not joking.

Workers whose circumstances have made them eligible for 47-week Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which was initiated in the George W. Bush administration in 2008, will suddenly not receive those payments after Dec. 28. The EUC, which often is about 17 percent of unemployment compensation, will end based on a calendar date Dec. 28, even for people who have been unemployed less than 47 weeks but more than 26 weeks.

My sort-of sister-in-law lost her job in mid-summer. She’d transferred to that job in hopes of better opportunity. Now Congress is giving me, my sweetheart and her, an extremely uneasy feeling. The young lady is looking for a job, but the transfer put her into a fairly expensive, out-of-state ZIP code. Her unemployment benefits, including that EUC portion of the payment, just cover her apartment, car, utility bills and food.

Now, I’m no fan of overly-generous social programs. I worked with fellow reporters on an award-winning unemployment series during the depth of the recession, when unemployment compensation lasted 99 weeks. That was a bit much. People don’t need two whole years to lick their wounds and get on with their lives.

Still, who knows what welfare programs the “99ers” would have signed up for if their unemployment had been halted? And who knows what sorts of welfare people will sign up for in January if the EUC halts.

For the somewhat-recently-unemployed, like my sort-of sister-in-law, a sudden loss of that portion of compensation from a former employer’s insurance would come not only as a shock but also as a huge financial crisis. If she’s within the 26 weeks, and I’m not sure of that, she can keep moving forward on looking for a full-time job. If she’s not, if she’s at 27 or 28, it’s going to work out to a loss of about $300, which is precisely the difference for her between making ends meet and needing our help and perhaps more help from government.

Our advice to her is to start hitting the pavement hard and finding not one, but two jobs. As for the job openings, there’s plenty of work for part-time at $8 per hour. So she’s going to need at least two of them. A 40-hour-a-week job at $8 per hour would make it impossible for her to stay in her home.

“While today’s job growth allows most newly unemployed individuals to find work after several weeks, the long-term unemployed face additional hurdles,” Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Jay Rowell said last week. “Ending this modest program based on a calendar date rather than economic principles and job skills could slow economic growth.”

At present, Congress and the Obama White House keep adding ingredients to a political stew, and it keeps tasting worse and worse to anyone who’s down on their luck. Obama early this month pleaded with Congress not to allow the “hard stop” of the EUC to happen Dec. 28, and they still have this week to do something about it. The problem is: what’s he going to do for the politicians who oppose him?

I’m hearing from people who don’t have much money that they have finally gotten through to agents of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. Some are telling me the price of that mandatory insurance doesn’t sound affordable to them. For those who can’t pay their bills, an additional health insurance bill is not likely to be a part of their budget, especially when they know the fine for the first year of not signing on will be small or nil.

If “Obamacare” fails, frankly it’s likely to fail because of nonparticipation by the very people Obama thought it could help.

Further, if the EUC payment is cut, many the people who are still looking for jobs but receiving unemployment compensation are not going to be able to afford any premium. Opponents of Obama surely don’t love that people have hardships, but politically they likely love the irony of it all.

Hopefully Congress will figure out what to do to fix up its foul-tasting stew so it doesn’t harm the people or the long-term well-being of the nation.

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