The House of Representatives is finally getting around to jobs, the number three item on its 2010 campaign agenda. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R–MI) has introduced the legislation, “To improve jobs, opportunity, benefits, and services for unemployed Americans, and for other purposes.” The bill does not have a number yet but according to its text may be referred to as the ‘‘Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Services Act of 2011’’ or simply the ‘‘JOBS Act of 2011’’. But it does not have to do with jobs; it has to do with unemployment benefits. It cuts them back.
Despite the noble wording of its title, what the bill does is to encourage states to whittle back their unemployment insurance systems. The bill gives states the option of using federal unemployment-benefit dollars to repay federal loans or provide tax breaks to businesses. Not continuing to pay jobless benefits to long-term unemployed people somehow counts as “job creation.”
Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) put it this way, “This is the opposite of a jobs bill — it is a hatchet job on the unemployment insurance program.” The ranking member of the Ways & Means Committee, Levin said, “With this legislation, Republicans are proposing to end this year’s guaranteed benefit for the long-term unemployed.” If states follow Michigan’s example by cutting benefits and instead using federal dollars to repay loans rather than providing weeks of aid, it could take billions of dollars away from jobless Americans.
Even though federally extended benefits could stay in place for the remainder of the year, some states let those benefits expire, benefits already budgeted and paid for in Washington. By not passing simple legislative measures to ensure that the federal government’s share of weekly benefits continues, a number of states failed to extend those benefits, as Missouri did on April 2. North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin followed suit on April 16. As a result they all denied 20 weeks of federal benefits to their jobless women and men.