While millions of unemployed Americans who have exhausted all available unemployment insurance benefits watched members of the House announce the re-introduction of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act [EUC] yesterday, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) joined three of his colleagues in a bi-partisan effort to end the payment of jobless benefits to millionaires.
Senators Udall, Coburn (R-OK), Tester (D-MT), and Representative James Lankford (R-OK) announced the introduction of a bill that would not longer allow for the payment of federal unemployment compensation to persons earning over $1 million per year – a savings of over $100 million over the next five years. Statements found in yesterday’s announcement include the following:
“In a federal budget rife with waste, duplication and, sometimes, sheer stupidity, giving unemployment benefits to millionaires may take the cake. Ending this practice will save nearly $100 million and correct a gross injustice against the millions of Americans who are out of work. Congress should pass this bill without delay. If there was ever a common sense spending cut, this is it,” Dr. Coburn said.
“Unemployment insurance is a critical, temporary, safety net for Americans who need help getting by,” said Senator Mark Udall of Colorado. “But making Coloradans pay for unemployment insurance for millionaires isn’t fiscally responsible – and frankly, it doesn’t make sense. Especially at a time when money is tight and our debt is out of control, we should be looking for smart, strategic ways to save money. I’m proud to work with Senator Coburn and Congressman Lankford on this common-sense proposal to save the taxpayers up to $100 million.”
Also in the press release:
According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, as many as 2,840 households who have reported an income of $1 million or more on their tax returns were paid a total of $18.6 million in unemployment benefits in 2008. This included more than 800 earning over $2 million and 17 with incomes exceeding $10 million. In all, multimillionaires were paid $5.2 million in jobless benefits.
Sounds a little bit unbelievable, huh? I personally know firsthand of a case in Colorado in which a small business owner (with a net worth well more than a few million) closed the company’s doors last year due to the horrendous economic conditions that persist in Colorado. Despite earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million per year, this individual is now collecting unemployment insurance benefits.
If that’s not enough, this individual’s spouse quit a job more than 2 years ago and has continued to collect EUC benefits over 18-24 months, allowing the money to accumulate in the Chase account in which it was deposited (obviously the money was not needed for purposes of paying their mortgage, utilities and other basic necessities). Just before a vacation to Europe last summer, the money (several thousand dollars) was withdrawn in a lump sum, raising some questions from bank personnel, but that was all – ultimately, the money was withdrawn without further problem. It is not known if this large, lump-sum withdrawal transaction from the Chase U.I. account raised any questions at the CDLE’s Unemployment Insurance Program, but whether it did or not is essentially irrelevant as no laws were broken (assuming the mandated job search and other requirements were met in order to maintain eligiblity for receipt of the EUC payments.)
While these millionaires collect unemployment insurance, there are millions of once-successful, middle class Americans who have not only lost their jobs, their homes and any hope of resuming their former (modest) lifestyles, they have now also lost their ability to pay for food, shelter, prescription medications and other very basic necessities because they exhausted all unemployment insurance – and rarely qualify for other assistance (aka ‘entitlement’ programs that assist in providing food, shelter other basic necessities to the poor; programs that are targeted and already being cut by lawmakers across the nation at stateand federal levels).
In Florida it was reported that the State legislature and Governor Rick Scott are proposing drastic cuts** to the state’s unemployment insurance program which includes reducing the number of weeks an individual can collect ‘regular’ U.I. benefits from 26 to 20 weeks. On Monday the Palm Beach Post reported,
The state House and Senate are considering bills that would give more power to businesses fighting whether workers are eligible for compensation in the first place, then reduce the number of weeks the unemployed can receive benefits, require them to prove they are looking for work and make them take jobs paying far less than they were making before.
Gov. Rick Scott, who will release his budget proposal today in the Central Florida town of Eustis, is expected to offer a jobless-benefits plan that is more drastic than the legislature’s. Among the changes Scott’s transition team recommended are requiring drug testing for applicants and requiring them to perform community service or other jobs to receive benefits.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered their views and Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project stated,
“What it really does is it casts jobless workers in Florida as shiftless, lazy drug addicts. It’s blaming the victim.”
In the report, Sen. Nancy Detert “insists her bill, which would require laid-off workers to have a skills assessment before they can receive benefits and then to prove they are looking for a job, would get them back to work more quickly.” She goes on,
“We have to do more to help people get off unemployment quicker, because after a couple of months you’re going to be too depressed to go out there and look,” said Detert, R-Venice. “It’s not like we’re dying to kick people when they’re down. This is costing millions and millions and we’re not even really helping anybody.”
The proposal (SB 728) also would cut how long they can receive benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. In the first 12 weeks of that period, those receiving benefits would be required to take any job paying at least 80 percent of their last salary, and in the last eight weeks they would have to take any job that pays at least as much as their unemployment compensation.
“That’s where people are going to have reality therapy,” Detert said. “Some of these jobs are gone forever. Once you’re in, maybe you can work your way up … but the best way to get a job is to already have a job.”
Senator Mark Udall was among the few Democrats who stood against the so-called ‘tax cut compromise’ made between President Obama and Republicans in December. Many thanks to Senator Udall for his leadership in representing his constituents, including yours truly from his post in Washington where most appear to be oblivious* (and apathetic) about the what’s happening out here on main street. Along with many others, I will be watching closely to see who follows Senator Udall’s (and his co-sponsor’s) lead in this effort to reign in hideous acts of greed.
*Photo above is by 99er, Bud Meyers: Some of those Washington, DC residents named in the picture exemplify those who remain oblivious about the world in which America lives.
**[Additional details of the proposed bill]:
It would tie the duration of benefits to the underlying unemployment rate, with the period of eligibility shrinking as the economy improves. When the jobless rate remains above 9 percent, benefits would be paid for 20 weeks. For every half-point drop in unemployment below 9 percent, the duration of benefits would drop by a week, falling to 12 weeks during periods when unemployment is 5 percent or lower. The state’s maximum weekly benefit would remain at $275. [source: Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau].
See the full report for more details.