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Extending Unemployment Benefits: Déjà Vu All Over Again

by Emily J. Martin, Vice President, 
National Women's Law Center

Today is expected to be an important one in the Senate, as it passes “fixes” to the new health care law, thus completing its work on health care reform and crossing a major item off its to-do list in time for a recess scheduled to begin Friday and go through April 12. 

But meanwhile, once again, Congress has failed to finalize a yearlong extension of extended unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies, meaning that once again tens of thousands of unemployed workers will lose benefits at the end of the month unless the Senate approves another short-term 30-day extension, already approved by the House. 

Because health care reform has absorbed the Senate’s time in this final week before recess, the only way to get this done before the deadline is through unanimous consent of all Senators. You might remember how this went last month; Senator Jim Bunning refused to consent to the extension for several days—at  great personal sacrifice, he felt free to point out, since his objections kept him on the Senate floor and thus led him to miss an important college basketball game

Kentucky has made the Elite Eight and is playing tonight in the NCAA Tournament, so hopefully, Senator Bunning’s March Madness will keep him from renewing his previous lonely stand against help for the unemployed today. But any single Senator could decide to just say no, causing benefits to lapse for individuals in need and creating huge administrative nightmares for overburdened and underfunded unemployment agencies. 

Indeed, this week, angry about the passage of the health care law, some Republicans have refused to provide unanimous consent even to let the Senate work past two in the afternoon. As a result, yesterday several important hearings were cancelled, including one for which military commanders had flown in from South Korea. It’s not hard to imagine that someone will refuse to let these crucial unemployment and COBRA benefits move forward too.

The best way to ensure this is doesn’t happen is for you to call your Senators today and tell them that they have important business to complete before recess. Help for unemployed workers should be a priority important enough for all Senators to set aside their grudges and come together. And if that isn’t enough to persuade them, tell them that the more quickly they wrap this up, the sooner they can get home to see the big game.

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