After spending much of the past couple of weeks out of the office on recess, members of the U.S. Senate returned to session on Monday, February 24 but did not resolve the much-debated emergency unemployment compensation issue. As it was reported yesterday in the Washington Wire, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to continue his negotiation efforts with lawmakers from both parties to get a bill to the Senate floor for a vote on a deal to extend the federal jobless benefit. In Pennsylvania, the last week that claimants were paid emergency unemployment benefits was the week of December 28, 2013. For an undetermined period of time, eligible claimants were permitted to continue to file claims in the hope that a deal would be worked out in Congress to extend the federal jobless benefit. Although it looked promising in the beginning of January that the Senate came to an agreement to extend the benefit a few more months, negotiations quickly fell apart adding almost another 600,000 to the list of long-term unemployed searching for work. With almost 2 million people exhausting their 26 weeks of state unemployment, many continue to search for work-any work- just to be able to get by and pay their bills. Meanwhile, the very same Senators who were elected to represent the citizens of the United States were in session a mere 28 days in the past two months taking breaks both in January and February. While it might have looked good for them in the public eye to pass on taking a double-recess and to stay in session to hash out some type of deal, the reality of the situation is that they just cannot get it together to play nice in the school yard.
When Reid and other Democrats last tried to get a bill to pass in the Senate to extend the emergency unemployment benefit, it failed by one vote needed to break a Republican filibuster which essentially is a tactical maneuver used to delay voting on a controversial bill. The way Reid tells it he is hopeful that his collaborations with Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, will bring in the support from other Republican Senators Dan Coates from Indiana and Mark Kirk from Illinois to get their support of a bill to extend the federal jobless benefit another six months. On the other side of the coin, Coates' spokesperson told reporters from The Huffington Post that there has been no communication between him and Reid in weeks to discuss the extension. According to Reuters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports unemployment to be about 10.2 million of which 3.6 million people are considered unemployed long-term and 2.6 million do not receive the benefit but continue an active work search. What is not widely considered is the 7.3 million Americans who are underemployed- that is they are working part-time jobs many not in their field of prior employment or at a lower level. Then there are a millions of Americans who the BLS no longer collects data as they have been out of the workforce for years. That does not mean they simply disappeared or were able to retire. No one knows exactly what happened to them. They might have found employment. They also might be collecting cans, eating a soup kitchens, and living under a bridge.
Unfortunately for the people who BLS no longer tracks, the underemployed, the long-term unemployed and those people who are within months or weeks to hitting the 26 week mark of maxing out their state unemployment benefit, there is no help on the horizon at least not from their elected officials who enjoyed two recesses, did not work together to develop a solution to the unemployment problem, and somehow are still able to keep their jobs. The biggest roadblock that keeps the Senate from taking action is that like children on a schoolyard, they do not know how to share their toys in the sandbox. Each side wants something, is unwilling to give to meet in the middle, and is all too willing to take their ball with them and go home. Reid blames the Republicans for not being reasonable. The Republicans blame Reid and the other Democrats for being unreasonable. While they play the blame game, they forget that they were elected into office to do their job which is to represent the people who elected them to begin with and who want to see some kind of resolution to the situation. Yes, it is important to ensure that there are funds allocated to pay for additional months of unemployment just as it is invaluable to determine what that extension in time will be not to mention a proposal to include a training component that will help people find better paying jobs outside of just retail and the service industry. At this point, even if the Senate were to get a bill passed to extend emergency unemployment, there is a greater uphill battle promised in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives who are reportedly not interested in extending the federal jobless benefit. While the fat cats in Washington D.C. sit back and play politics with people's lives, they should remember that they were elected into office and they can also be voted out.