Republican UI Bill Not What It Seems

You’ve got to feel bad for folks who go through life so distrustful and suspicious of their fellow citizens that they believe people are always trying to get away with something, trying to game the system. Like those millions of jobless workers who would rather lay back and collect $300 or so a week in unemployment insurance (UI) benefits than go out and try to find a job that pays a decent wage and gives them a chance to support a family, keep a roof over their heads and climb a step or two up the ladder.

Yep, you’ve got to feel bad for Republican senators. You see, that must be the way they feel about the nation’s 3.8 million long-term jobless workers. Why else would they introduce a bill that renews the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits they let expire at the end of 2013 (and have voted against three times) but would also allow states to deny help to jobless workers who are not in a job training program or completing 20 hours a week of so-called ”community service” or jumping through new hoops to prove they are looking for work.

Michelle Gibbs, 42, is one of 2 million Americans cut off from unemployment benefits.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about this Republican proposal from Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) who’s obviously more concerned about pushing conservative policy based on myths about people without jobs.

There are nearly three unemployed men and women for every job opening in the United States. So it’s not as if all the jobless have to do is shine their shoes and head out the door to the job market.

Republicans have long led the drive to cut funding for job training—even for those who have had their jobs exported (see Trade Adjustment Assistance). Most states now lack funding for job training and job retraining for all who need it.

Sarah Dennis of Ohio, an unemployed mother of a newborn, has lost her long-term unemployment insurance, thanks to Republican inaction.

“Community service” may sound like a good idea, but 20 hours a week cleaning up parks or painting benches is 20 hours a week taken away from a job search. BTW, current federal law prohibits states from requiring unemployed workers to engage in community service to public workers projects as a condition of receiving benefits.

The Republican bill sets up new administrative hurdles for both jobless workers and the states to prove that unemployed workers are indeed job hunting instead of golfing with those 20 hours less a week to look for work.

What happens if an unemployed worker fails to meet the new standards? The worker is disqualified for benefits “indefinitely” or until he or she is re-employed for at least four weeks and earns at least four times the weekly benefit amount. Take a minute and read that again carefully. A worker who can’t find a job can only receive jobless benefits after he or she finds a job that pays more than the unemployment benefit.

The next time you hear some Republican senator claiming to support restoring UI for the long-term jobless, remember, thanks to their inaction, 2 million jobless workers have lost benefits and that number will continue to rise. (Mouse over the photos from the National Employment Law Project in this post to learn more about three workers who were cut off from long-term unemployment benefits.)

Call your senators at 845-809-4509 and urge them to pass a clean emergency unemployment benefits extension, not the Republican bill offered by Heller that punishes workers more than it helps.

Read anonymous confessions from jobless workers here.

Chris Ramsey, 43, lost his home in Feb after being cut off jobless aid.