Thanks to Republicans in Congress and their friends in state capitols, the chronically unemployed - five million who have been out if work for 26 weeks or more - are losing another strand in the already razor-thin lifeline that has kept them afloat.
As The New York Times reported Tuesday when House and Senate Republicans agreed to extend unemployment insurance coverage back in February, they attached a ton of onerous conditions Democrats didn't like but had to agree to including reducing benefits and slashing eligibility. With time covered by the extension running out, it is unlikely the GOP will sign on for another 13 weeks since picking on the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged is its calling card these days.
To make matters worse, several Republican-controlled states such as Florida and New Jersey are making it almost impossible for people to qualify for a benefit they paid for while working through payroll deductions that went to state UI coffers.
Conservatives hate unemployment coverage on general principles. After all, they reason, if someone can't make it to the top then let's kick them while they are down. Kevin Hassert of the Americsn Enterprise Institute told the Times that giving benefits for up to 99 weeks "creates an environment where people are subsidized to become a structural unemployment problem."
Thank you, Sir! May I please have another?
An acquaintance in Missouri has been out of work since September after being laid off from an accounting firm. When I sent Mr. Hassert's quote, my CPA friend fired back, "I'm living in luxury here on less than two hundred bucks a week. With this kind of cash rolling in, why would I ever look for a job?"
Maybe Mr. Hassert realized how stupid and heartless his comment sounded because he quickly conceded to the Times that the long-term unemployed are "the worst-off people."
Gee, ya' think?
Not content with the GOP in Congress kicking people when they're down, states are getting in on the action by stomping a hobnailed boot on the necks of the unemployed.
Florida's far right wing legislature and governor are contentedly adding insult to injury. Not only has the state cut benefits even more than Washington required, it has made it exceptionally difficult to qualify.
Until Governor Scott came along, a newly unemployed person in the state could apply for benefits by phone. But Mr. Scott ordered the bureaucracy to change the procedure, requiring people to apply online and then also take a 45-minute test to assess their job skills. This puts people who have no easy internet access at a real disadvantage, as it does folks whose English is minimal or non-existent. And since Florida is home to huge numbers of immigrants from Central and South America, the state effectively is cutting them off from the system that was put in place to help.
As a result, massive numbers of complaints flooded thefederal government, which is now investigating tlo see whether the burden Florida is imposing on its citizens s legal.
"It's cruel and serves no purpose," a reporter at a Tampa newspaper whom I've known for eons said to me on the phone. "That's our governor for you. He'll take away your umbrella the moment it rains."
Every level of government has a fiscal problem partly caused by circumstances and partly by design.
As columnist and blogger Paul Krugman notes repeatedly, the housing bust coupled with The Great Recession took big chunks out of state revenue: Personal, sales and property tax collections plummeted just as demand for services skyrocketed - services that are at least partly funded by Washington.
But part of the problem was man-made when right wing governors and lesislatures handed out massive business tax cuts and paid for them by grabbing money normally used to fund social assistance. Even when Treasury cut large checks for state aid - such as from the mortgage fraud settlement - ideologues such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used the money to cover the cost of his corporate giveaways. Wisconsin folks who got robbed blind by Wall Street were out of luck.
Republicans are playing a kind of three-card monty game with the American people. There's plenty of cash to give away to businesses that don't need it in the name of "job creation." But there's no money to help the people who don't have the jobs that were never created for them with the state handouts from Madison, Tallahassee and ther state capitols.
It's fraud on a massive scale and it will continue until we force Republicans to stop it.
Charley James is an American journalist and writer who lives in Toronto. His memoir, "There's A Monkey In The Yard!" is due to be published next summer.
Posted: Tuesday, 29 May 2012