Not Nothing: Lame Duck Congress Extends Unemployment Benefits
Queasy members of Congress have, at least temporarily, balked at a larger economic stimulus package and a bailout of the faltering auto industry. But, on the brink of 1.2 million unemployed Americans running out of unemployment benefits, Congress at least enacted and the President signed into law a measure extending unemployment insurance.
After an initial 13-week extension in June, the current legislation provides an additional 7 weeks of extended benefits, which increases to 20 weeks in states with unemployment rates above 6.0%. (Beware: some press reports have mangled the benefit levels prescribed by the law. See NELP for the best description of the current benefits picture.)
The House passed the measure in early October, but the Senate delayed as it maneuvered, unsuccessfully, for a broader stimulus measure. Still, extension of unemployment benefits is itself one of the best means of economic stimulus, providing $1.64 in stimulus for every dollar spent.
But, as we’ve described over at TheMiddleClass.org, the extension is “the absolute minimum action Congress could take to assist middle-class Americans”. An auto bailout in normal times might be undesirable, but the current economic situation demands it. Help for state, city, and local governments would help stave off wrongheaded service cuts – see Amy’s op-ed in today’s Albany Times-Union – and infrastructure investment would create jobs and provide an opportunity to repair and modernize transit systems, water and sewage facilities, and school buildings.