Senate to the unemployed: Go to Hell

Senate to the unemployed: Go to HellDear Unemployed Friends,

When you're firing up those barbecue grills this Independence Day weekend, be sure to turn the flame up high in honor of the U.S. Senate, which went on a week-long holiday break without extending jobless benefits to those who have been laid off. Thanks to the senators' desire to get out of Dodge City and start their vacations early, the more than 1.3 million laid-off workers who have lost their benefits thus far will be joined by another 400,000 by the end of the week -- bringing the anticipated total to 3 million people cut off from their financial life support by the end of this month. Somebody, please pass the ketchup.

The House voted underwhelmingly 270-153 to extend unemployment benefits, but the Senate successfully filibustered the measure before adjourning for vacation.

Oddly enough, relief may come from the grave. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd's passing, at age 92 on Monday, has left his seat open to an appointment by Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat. We'd like Manchin to hurry up, no disrespect intended toward the old guy who filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, but later backed civil rights measures and criticized the Iraq War. Who ever said life wasn't complicated?

But right now, the unemployed need a new senator from the glorious state of West Virginia to understand that the measly $300 (on average) check they had been receiving in the greatest recession the world has ever seen as a necessary evil that citizens in a democracy should be ready to bear. Not to mention the Golden Rule and good will toward men and all that.

As Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said, "There's no excuse for voting no." He added, "It is hard to understand how anybody can come to this floor and say, for 1.7 million people and their families, this is not an emergency."

By the way, even the unemployed are having a hard time figuring out where they stand in the process. Collecting unemployment benefits is a multi-stage process that was decently explained by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Kathleen Pender.

She wrote: "In California, people who are eligible for unemployment benefits, get up to 26 weeks of state benefits. Until the federal funding ran out, once they exhausted their state benefits, they could get four consecutive rounds of federal extended benefits. The first tier was up to 20 weeks, the second up to 14, the third up to 13 and the fourth up to six. But when the fourth round ran out, they could move on to a final found of benefits with special rules know as Fed-Ed, for up to 20 weeks. That would be a total of 99 weeks of unemployment -- except the federal funding for all four tiers of extended benefits and Fed-Ed ran out at the end of May."

As things stand now, those receiving the state benefits (up to 26 weeks) will continue doing so until they run out, but then the well is dry. People receiving one of the four tiers of federal extended benefits will continue until that tier is exhausted, and then they are done. Folks on Fed-Ed get dropped right away, as in now.

The bill that the Senate left town on would have extended payments for a total of 99 weeks for those whose state-paid benefits ran out. The measure fell two votes shy of the needed 60, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who supports the bill, voted "nay" to take a procedural step that allows a re-vote. I'm hopeful.

"We will vote on this measure again once there is a replacement named for the late Senator Byrd," he said. How weird would it be if this became Byrd's legacy?
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