The long-term unemployed – including hundreds of thousands in California – would receive 14 additional weeks of jobless benefits under a bill introduced in Congress this week.
More than 2.2 million Californians were out of work in December. As of Feb. 8, there were nearly 330,000 "99ers" – the jobless who have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment insurance, according to the state Employment Development Department.
Proposed by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., the bill would extend jobless benefits for both the 99ers and those currently unemployed.
"Millions of workers across the nation, many of whom live in my district, are experiencing a true state of emergency. Our bill would ensure these long-term unemployed workers get the long overdue assistance they need to support their families, make ends meet and contribute to our economy," Lee said in a statement.
Jobless Californians in December received an average of $293 a week, according to the Employment Development Department. A federal extension of unemployment insurance in 2009 suppressed the poverty rate and increased spending – effects that tend to boost employment and lower the unemployment rate, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
Federal funding paid $120 billion in unemployment benefits in 2009 and nearly $160 billion last year. The office projects that benefits will cost $93 billion this year under current law.
Extending benefits an additional 14 weeks would cost an estimated $16 billion, Lee told the Huffington Post. She added that she would look for cuts to offset the cost if Republicans refused to allow the bill, classified as emergency funding, to reach the House.
Lee tried to pass similar legislation last year. But without Republican support, the bill stands little chance of passing this time either.
"We're not going to just sit around for the next two years and do nothing," she told the Huffington Post. "We have the president, we have the Senate, and we have many Republicans who have 99ers, chronically unemployed, who live in their districts. And I think when they hear from the people who this affects, who are their constituents, I have to be hopeful there's some sense of morality there."
In California, where the unemployment rate remains in double digits and is as high as 28.3 percent in Imperial County, the number of 99ers grows every week. More than 46 percent of the jobless in December had been out of work for 27 weeks or more, and more than 355,000 filed for unemployment insurance for the first time.