Unemployment Insurance Hearing Likely a One-Sided Affair
Policy + Politics

Unemployment Insurance Hearing Likely a One-Sided Affair

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Tomorrow afternoon on Capitol Hill, seven unemployed workers are expected to testify before members of Congress on the problems of the long-term jobless in the months since Congress allowed a federal extension of jobless benefits expire.

The hearing, however, will not be held in a legislative committee, but in the Democrats’ internal Steering and Policy committee. While a bipartisan coalition in the Senate managed to pass a bill extending the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program last month, House Republicans have been generally uninterested in the issue, with many openly hostile to the possibility of a renewal of the federal extension. The likelihood of getting such a hearing convened by regular committees, all of which are run by the GOP, seems low.

Related: Jobs Data Spurs Call to Renew Unemployment Insurance

A release put out by the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Leader Pelosi and members of the House Democratic Caucus will listen to the stories of Americans severely affected by the loss of this vital lifeline and call on House Republicans to [renew unemployment insurance] for nearly 3 million individuals who have lost UI since the program expired on December 28.”

In addition to Pelosi, prominent Democrats expected to attend include Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer; Rep. George Miller of California, co-chair of the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee; and Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Ways and Means.”

The seven witnesses, whose appearance was arranged through the National Employment Law Project, will include men and women from their early thirties to their fifties who have been unemployed for more than six months, and were affected when the federal extension of benefits expired in December.

The list includes a former corporate environmental health and safety office, a former flooring salesperson, and the former director of accounting and human resources for a manufacturing plant.

Related: Democratic Pushback on Unemployment Insurance Mounts

One witness, a 28-year-old single mother of an autistic child, will be unable to attend. Having lost her job last year at this time, she received only a few weeks of the extended federal benefits before the program was cut off in December. Recently, she contacted NELP organizers to say that because she and her daughter had been evicted and were now homeless, she could not attend the hearing.

Mitchell Hirsch, an advocate for unemployed workers with NELP, said that while the witnesses all have different backgrounds, there is a striking similarity to what happened after their unemployment benefits were cut off. “What’s really striking is how rapidly people go from a rather tenuous financial situation where they are scraping by with unemployment benefits, trying to make ends meet, basically patching it together with duct tape and unemployment benefits to having no ability to maintain bill payments.”

All the witnesses, Hirsch said, are in danger of losing their homes and even basic services such as phones and an internet connection. “These are the tools that are essential in modern society to maintain an effective job search. These are the first things that go. How is cutting off their benefits going to prod them to get back to work faster if their ability to make contact with potential employers is stripped away from them?” Hirsch asked.

Related: A Light Flickers to Extend Unemployment Insurance

Yet the likelihood that the stories of NELP’s witnesses, however compelling, will spur action from the House Republican leadership seems slim. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has consistently rejected the Senate’s proposal for not doing enough to create jobs. However, he has not introduced an alternative measure, nor has he allowed unemployment insurance bills drafted by Republicans in his own caucus to come to the floor.

Close observers of the debate on Capitol Hill said that the likelihood of getting a renewal of the unemployment insurance program through Congress remains small.

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