Congress is fighting again. But this time it’s not about the government shutdown or Obamacare. Well, it’s kind of about Obamacare. We’ll get to that later. No, this time, back from their long holiday vacations, members of Congress are debating whether or not to extend unemployment insurance for millions of Americans.
So, for the next installment of explaining major political issues to all you precocious tweens out there who want to know a little more about Washington, here’s our explainer on this debate that has the Capitol abuzz.
People are freaking out right now. What’s going on?
Well, the last time we talked, Congress was debating a budget deal that eventually passed with a lot of support from both Republicans and Democrats. But one of the things that wasn’t included in the bill that President Obama signed was an extension of long-term unemployment insurance.
Whoa, whoa. Slow down. What’s unemployment insurance?
So, when people lose their jobs, they can apply through their home state for money to help them get by while they look for another job. Now, they’re not going to get all the money they earned at their last job, but likely around half. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to lose your house if you lose your job.
Where does this money come from?
It usually comes from the taxpayer. The program is split down the middle between the state and federal government, and is funded through money collected from taxes. That way, everybody helps run the program, because one day you might be the one who benefits from the insurance.
If unemployed people are trying to find a job, they could receive money for up to 26 weeks. The program dates back to 1935 during the Great Depression.
Who doesn’t get this insurance?
You have to have lost your job through no fault of your own. You also have to actively be looking for a job. People who worked part time, or were self-employed, or were students don’t qualify for the insurance. Also, people who were fired for misconduct or are unemployed because they refuse to seek work don’t get insurance.
Fine. But earlier you said that the fighting is about people who are unemployed for over 26 weeks.
You’re paying attention! When the latest recession started in 2008, the federal government began allowing for this insurance beyond 26 weeks. They called it an emergency job situation because there were a lot more people who were long-term unemployed. In 2007, there were 1 million long-term unemployed Americans. Last spring, that number peaked at 6.7 million. Now, there are about 4 million long-term unemployed people in this country. These people are usually allowed to receive insurance for up to 99 weeks.
OK, so what happened at the end of last year?
On Dec. 28, 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work and looking for a job for over 26 weeks stopped receiving unemployment insurance because the program was not extended by Congress. Without this emergency insurance, an estimated additional 3.5 million people will lose the extra money they need while they actively look for jobs this year. There are now three times the amount of people looking for jobs than there are jobs out there.
Who doesn’t like unemployment insurance?
Historically, Republicans have had problems with unemployment insurance. If people are receiving money from the government while they’re out of work, it might take away their motivation to seek a job, some argue. This lack of motivation is what is keeping people out of work, they say.
Democrats disagree, saying the extra money makes their job search easier. “I can’t name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job,” Obama said Tuesday. Additionally, Democrats say that if these unemployed people don’t receive money, they won’t be able to spend money, and therefore won’t be able to create other jobs and help the economy on the whole.
Are Republicans still arguing against this?
As you can imagine, voting against insurance for out-of-work people isn’t very popular in politics. Democrats are already gearing up to attack Republicans for pushing back on the insurance.
So, now, many Republicans have said they would vote to extend long-term unemployment insurance. That is, if it were paid for somehow.
Since long-term unemployment insurance was originally viewed as an emergency measure, it never needed extra funding from Congress. The program was passed nearly a dozen times with no strings attached. But the recession is over, and many Republicans don’t think this issue is an emergency any more. So, it has to get paid for somehow, they say.
How would they pay for it, then?
That’s where Obamacare plays in. On Tuesday morning, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, proposed a one-year delay of the health care law’s individual mandate. There have been other proposals, but overall it doesn’t look like a bill would pass the Republican House without some spending cuts.
So, what is Congress debating now?
The current bill, which is being debated in the Senate, would extend this insurance for three months. The authors, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, say it buys time for a bigger bill. Both senators come from states with high unemployment — around 9 percent, compared with 7 percent nationally. The bill, which costs about $6.4 billion, doesn’t say how Congress would pay for the insurance, though.
For now, the Senate will debate how to pay for the measure. It’s still unclear if this can pass the House and then reach the president’s desk to sign. It’s not even all set to go in the Senate yet.
So, it’s not close to being over?
For now, not really. But did you understand?
Yep! But, it could have used .gifs.
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