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Extended Unemployment Benefits Approved by Feds

Extended Unemployment Benefits Approved by Feds - But Debates Continue on Raiding Already Approved Recovery Funds

This week, the U.S. Senate finally broke a filibuster by conservatives to approve an extension of unemployment insurance (UI) for 2.5 million people who lost their benefits when the program expired last month.  The House is expected to approve the bill today, which extends the program through November, offering the long-term unemployed up to 99 weeks of aid and making benefits retroactive to June 2 when the program expired.

However, UI is only one part of job creation.  Congress is currently considering further aid for state programs such as schools and Medicaid.  Many opponents of  state fiscal relief continue to demand that the government rescind other recovery funds to pay for programs, effectively calling for the firing of one set of workers to promote employment and services for other groups.  Furthermore, it is quite telling that right-wing representatives who are purportedly concerned with the deficit, took issue with how the government would pay for the UI extension, but desire to maintain the Bush tax cuts, which are major sources of the long-term deficit and as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates, "will continue to harm the budget outlook throughout the next decade."

Robbing Broadband to Pay for Schools:  Just this month, for example, the House approved an Appropriations Committee amendment to the supplemental war bill that would have added funds to avoid massive teacher layoffs along with funding for expanded Pell Grants, the Gulf Oil Spill, and other programs, but paid for this aid through $11.7 billion in cuts in other programs.  With inflated deficit hysteria poisoning the debate, the amendment cut funding for a special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, some other education programs, and cut over $700 million from key broadband and technological investments allotted in the Recovery Act, including $602 million the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce for broadband grants, $112 million in funding for digital television, and $15 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) construction. Several advocates are concerned that a loss of crucial funding for broadband will compromise economic development, growth, and access provisions to un-served and under-served areas of the country.  On top of that, due to current state budget shortfalls, ARRA broadband investments are the only direct source of funding states have at their disposal to improve and expand high-speed Internet access.

Jobs Now, Plan for Deficit Reduction Later:  With unemployment hovering at 10 percent,  most economic experts see the focus on short-term deficits as misguided and dangerous, since, if anything, we need more immediate spending to create jobs, not less.   As Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, and David Walker, the president and CEO of the anti-deficit Peter G. Peterson Foundation, relate jointly in a recent article, the nation can effectively engage in planning for long-term deficit reduction even as we run short-term deficits to create jobs that promote systematic federal investments in public structures, education, and benefits for the long-term unemployed as a means to spur recovery and future fiscal stability:

A focus on jobs now is consistent with addressing our deficit problems ahead... We must accept higher deficits in the short-term in order to put people back to work.  At the same time, we must take immediate steps to agree on a path and a process for reducing the structural deficits that lie ahead.

Cutting short-term recovery dollars now does little or nothing to deal with long-term structural deficits and not definitively moving on necessary job creation measures can prolong economic pain and likely make those long-term deficits worse.  So as Mishel, Walker and a range of other experts emphasize, the short-term spending cuts suddenly being debated in Congress are a distraction from both immediate economic recovery and from any genuine debate on long-term deficit reduction.

Resources:
Committee on Appropriations - House Consideration of the 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act: Amendment on Fully Offset Education
Education Week - Some State Officials Worried About Race to Top Cut
Lawrence Mishel and David Walker - Address Jobs Now and Deficits Later
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
- Obey Pushing for $10 Billion to Save Teacher Jobs
Progressive States Network - Broadband and Recovery
Stimulating Broadband - Alert: House Appropriations Cuts $602 Million from Broadband Stimulus
United States Senate - Bayh Letter to Inouye