While Republicans are correct in asserting that something needs to be done to address the amounting national debt, cutting off struggling Americans’ unemployment checks with little warning — especially during the holidays — is not the right time or the right way to make that point.



 

While Republicans are correct in asserting that something needs to be done to address the amounting national debt, cutting off struggling Americans’ unemployment checks with little warning — especially during the holidays — is not the right time nor the right way to make that point.

Instead, it is a surefire way to sink struggling families, overwhelm social service agencies, increase crime and further damage the prospects of an economic recovery. While the unemployment system is clearly breaking under the tremendous burden of claims resulting from the struggling economy, and the system is rife with abuse that needs to be reined in, millions of people depend on this temporary safety net.

With that said, 99 weeks is an awfully long time to not be able to find some type of job, even if it’s not the type of work someone would prefer to do, or if it pays less than what a worker used to make, or if it pays less than what an unemployment check provides.

The problem is that for some, unemployment insurance is seen as an entitlement rather than a temporary way to make it through the tough time between a layoff and finding a new job. Under the current system, there is clearly a disincentive for people to get back to work. That needs to be addressed.

Both sides in Washington agree that the benefits need to be extended, but Republicans want to find a way to pay for it. Gov. Deval Patrick has rightfully called on Sen. Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican, to pass the extension immediately to help the Bay State ranks of the unemployed. Brown, in turn, has introduced a bipartisan compromise bill that would authorize unused federal funds identified by the Office of Management and Budget to pay for these benefits for a period of one year.

It seems like a reasonable compromise to help jobless Americans continue to receive their unemployment benefit, which are a very effective way for the government to stimulate the economy and keep families above water, while also addressing the very real concerns that lawmakers have about amounting federal deficits.

While this money has not been spent, it’s not a magical well of “free money,” either. It simply represents federal funds that have not been allocated, but should really be used to pay off the deficit in the long term. Still, if this funding can assuage Republican concerns, and if it can help bridge the funding gap for the time being, it should be authorized. Congress should immediately pass the Brown bill to temporarily extend unemployment benefits.

In the long term, Congress needs to address the broken aspects of the unemployment compensation system so that there is a greater incentive for people to get back to work. Congress should also create mechanisms to deter, investigate and prosecute cases of abuse. It should continue to identify ways to spur job growth, retrain the unemployed with skills in growing industries and encourage employers to hire or re-hire laid-off workers.