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Commentary :: Social Welfare
Bailout Certainty-Worker Insecurity
14 Dec 2009
Commentary on the government's expediency in the release of another $70 billion of corporate bailout money compared to the stalling in congress to extend Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits to more than 3.2 million workers.
Bailout Certainty-Worker Insecurity

I was not surprised about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s passionate defense of his decision to extend the government's unpopular bailout of failing financial institutions. Justifying the dubious decisions of his office is his job. What I am surprised about, is the lack of attention in the media to the irony of the situation in light of what is simultaneously happening in congress around the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program.

To the unpleasant surprise of many of the recently unemployed, the bill passed on November 4 by both the Senate and the House of Representatives (not an EUC program extension), which extends federal jobless benefits by 14 weeks for Americans in all 50 states and by 20 weeks for those living in states where the unemployment rate is 8.5% or higher, is only an extension to provisions of the stimulus bill which will expire after Dec. 31. There are NO provisions at all in that bill to cover the 3.2 million workers across the country whose first 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits will run out during the first three months of 2010 and after*… None. Presently, as the law stands, unemployed workers whose initial state benefits expire after December 31 2009, are not entitled to ANY additional benefits from the federal government in 2010.

Partially in response to the obvious gap left by this bill for millions of unemployed workers, House Speaker Pelosi had said at the beginning of December that Congress would seek to tap the $70 million unused funds from the Wall Street bailout to at least pay for new job generating spending on roads and bridges and to save the jobs of firefighters, teachers and other public employees. Sadly, that didn’t happen regardless of prior hints by the White House as to its openness to a possible alternative use of the remaining bailout funds. As we now know, Secretary Geithner had his own idea on how the remaining $70 billion would be used.

Strike one.

Again with Pelosi’s strong support behind some sort of emergency action for the recently unemployed soon to run out of benefits, a bill extending unemployment benefits was introduced in early December in the House by James McDermott (D-WA). H.R. 4183*, the Helping Unemployed Workers Act, would extend the eligibility deadline for those who have exhausted benefits from December 31, 2009 until March 31, 2011. In addition, it would fix the December 31 deadline glitch that prevents unemployed workers in high-unemployment states from collecting the additional six weeks of insurance that was passed in H.R. 3548. This bill never reached the floor. The introduction and vote on this bill before the December 18th winter recess deadline is now impossible.

Strike two.

The last hope for Pelosi, McDermott, Reid, Franken and the rest of the decent democrats out there trying to get something done about this, seems to try to tag it onto the Defense Dept’s appropriation bill. The last spending bill in the omnibus yet to go to conference, the bill for the Pentagon’s expenses is now the last remaining vehicle for pushing through any comprehensive unemployment initiative before year’s end. Knowing that lawmakers in either party are unlikely to oppose the Defense bill, Progressive Democrats have signaled that they may indeed attach to it an extension of unemployment and COBRA healthcare aid, but it is still not clear what and how much will be in this extension.

From any angle we look at this, it is clear that the banks and other financial institutions have received some very good Christmas news from the Obama administration to the beat of 70 billion tax payer dollars. Meanwhile, up to 3.2 million workers across the country whose 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits will run out during the first three months of 2010 will have to anxiously sit through the holidays waiting to see what their friends in congress can do to tweak the Defense department’s appropriation bill.

This is a surprise Christmas present waiting game that no unemployed American worker should be expected to have to live through. Unemployed workers are not asking for charity or a backdoor gift. I believe unemployed workers who have for years contributed to the economic growth of our nation and have ultimately been betrayed by the very financial and corporate institutions we are bailing out, have more than earned their right to the economic support of the state. Furthermore, they deserve it and the state owes it to them! For it was the state itself which failed in its responsibility to regulate and police the criminal activities of the financial institutions that destroyed our economy and millions of jobs and that we are now bailing out. Furthermore, I am sure most Americans would agree that their tax dollars would be better spent in assuring the economic solvency of their communities via benefits for their unemployed family members, friends, and neighbors rather than on bailing out the corporations and institutions that have destroyed that very solvency.

The funding dichotomy I raise here, in my view brings into doubt if the shift in focus and attention from the interests of Wall Street over to those of Main Street are ever really going to be fully realized by this administration. Not to be too cynical or pessimistic. Maybe it’s a long and arduous process beyond my political grasp. Yet the president has not spoken to us about this to reassure us, Pelosi has, and she has not fared very well recently fighting the good fight about the public option for health care without the president’s outspoken support.

Good intentions of the administration or not, the present reality is one where millions of unemployed American workers must spent their holidays filled with desperate uncertainty about what legislative tricks their few friends in government will or will not pull off to help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I do not believe that this sense of insecurity is what Americans were promised during the last election. Sadly, pessimism aside, the swift action to extend the bailout coupled with the shameful “inaction” of congress to pass through a bill like HR 4183 before their winter recess, smacks the educated observer of the same tired and failed vision of neoliberal economics, i.e. prioritize the interests of capital over the rights and needs of workers.

Unless democrats in congress move swiftly to do whatever it is they need to in order to guarantee the key provisions of the EUC Program get somehow instituted before the end of the year, this latest corporate bailout will be viewed by most educated progressive Americans as another reminder that this democratic congress is like the last congress… just another tool of trickle-down, neoliberal economics.

Think about this while you cook your Christmas turkey in a few days: 3.2 million unemployed American workers will, maybe for the first time in their lives, be spending their Christmas season in fear of soon not being able to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families.

Personally, I think that this is not only a shame for the Democratic Party in power and for the most powerful and richest country in the world. It is also a personal smack in the face of common decency and of every honest working man and woman in America.

Adrian Boutureira

Do contact your congressperson and demand they take action before year’s end to extend the EUC program in accordance to the general provisions of H.R. 4183.

*-The National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a report with a state-by-state breakdown of benefits exhaustions from January to March.

This work is in the public domain
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