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Harkin: Senate closer to extension of Federal Unemployment Insurance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, after the U.S. Senate voted to start debate on the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Congress was one step closer to passing the bill. Harkin, as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has been a strong advocate for the millions of jobseekers and families the bill would help, and joined 20 of his fellow senators in co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill and urging swift passage by the Senate.

“Today’s Senate vote is a critical step forward for the 1.3 million Americans—including 4,300 Iowans—who saw their unemployment assistance expire last month,” Harkin said. “Even as the economy recovers, many jobseekers who lost jobs through no fault of their own and have been out of work for six months or more are struggling to make ends meet. Federal unemployment insurance, which these workers have earned and deserve, is a vital lifeline that helps them put food on the table and pay their bills. I urge my colleagues to quickly pass this critical measure to help middle-class families and strengthen the economy.”

The unemployment insurance system is a partnership between the federal government and state governments that provides a temporary weekly benefit to qualified workers who lose their job and are seeking work. The amount of that benefit is based in part on a worker’s past earnings. In Iowa, the average weekly UI benefit amount is $336. Iowa is among 43 states that offer 26 weeks of UI coverage, while seven states offer fewer weeks.

The extended federal UI program was signed into law in June 2008 by President George W. Bush, when the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average duration of joblessness was 17.1 weeks. It has been reauthorized by Congress a number of times as the United States continues to emerge from the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression. Today, the national unemployment rate is seven percent and the average duration of unemployment is 37.2 weeks, which is much longer than the 26 weeks of unemployment coverage that most states provide. According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the long-term unemployment rate is falling, but it remains at 2.6 percent, which is twice as high as in any prior month when extended UI benefits were allowed to expire. CBPP economists note that in each of the previous three recessions, federal unemployment assistance didn’t end until the long-term unemployment rate had dropped to around 1.3 percent.

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I think our do nothing Congress donate most of their salary towards funding the extension. This Congress has not done enough to warrant the salary they get.

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