Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Time to Petition the Government
by Scott Klinger, 3/12/2014
Readers of the Center for Effective Government’s blogs will know that in the past two weeks, a significant and wonderful community of people has been communicating through the comments section of our site. We hope you all saw Jessica Schieder’s recent post announcing a new Google group for those of you that want to carry on the discussion.
Since Jessica wrote last week, another 72,000 Americans have lost their unemployment benefits because emergency unemployment compensation has not been extended. More than two million unemployed Americans, including more than 200,000 veterans, have been left out in the cold. The ranks of the long-term unemployed (in most states, people out of work for more than 27 weeks) jumped by 203,000 last month. More than 2.5 percent of the labor force has now been out of work more than six months, the highest percentage since World War II. Never in the past have extended unemployment benefits been allowed to expire when more than 1.3 percent of the workforce had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Democrats and Republicans remain gridlocked over how to “pay for” reinstating emergency unemployment benefits. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) has launched a “discharge petition” that would force a House vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits if it garners 218 signatures. At this point, that seems unlikely.
As of this writing there’s still no timeline for Congress to act before they leave at the end of this week for their March vacation. They officially call this a “state work break,” and some of them will spend the week in their districts, so you might want to call their district offices and try to set up a meeting to share your stories directly.
We also created a new web form that allows you to send in your stories of how the expiration of emergency unemployment insurance has affected you, your families, and your communities. We will share these stories when we meet with members of Congress and their staffs and share them with journalists who we hope will bring more attention to this largely invisible crisis.
Through your comments, we also learned of an additional action opportunity that was not initially included in our list last week. Our friends at the Center for American Progress launched a petition on the White House’s We the People website calling for immediate reinstatement of emergency unemployment benefits. If you are not familiar with this website, President Obama established it shortly after coming into office as a way for citizens to organize themselves and call attention to important issues that the government is not acting on but should. The White House promises it will respond to any petition that garners more than 100,000 signatures. The petitions don’t directly lead to changes in the law, but they give added visibility to causes that the media may be ignoring.
One of the current leading petitions on the White House site calls upon the U.S. to ban Canadian citizen and pop star Justin Bieber from the United States following several acts of alleged criminal activity. That petition has drawn more than 266,000 signatures and made headlines throughout the world.
There are more than two million Americans who have lost their emergency unemployment benefits and millions more who have suffered as these dollars are removed from communities across the land. When those who have lost their benefits no longer are able go to the grocery store or the gas station, local businesses suffer along with the unemployed. The White House petition on extending unemployment insurance has fewer than 700 signers. Can’t we spread the word to our friends and families and gin up more local people to sign this petition? If Congress sees this petition take off, it can be a clear sign to them that this issue is generating significant concern from their constituents. We need to swing one Senator to change his or her vote to move this through the Senate. If that happens, it will greatly increase pressure on the House to take action.
The petition process – which the Obama administration has sought to resurrect – has a long and important role in American history. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1789, the newly formed republic didn’t have a road map of how to govern itself. Leaders didn’t know how to set an agenda for legislative action. It was hard even for elected officials to get to the new capital in Washington, DC. For constituents, it was darn near impossible to get to Washington to talk to their legislators. So those early Americans, believing that the new government was their government, adopted the old English practice of petitioning their representatives to act and pass legislation. During the First Congress, more than 600 citizen petitions were presented to Congress, including ones calling for the abolition of slavery. During the first 12 years of Congress, nearly 3,000 petitions arrived at the Washington offices of House members. (See Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty.)
The Constitution of the United States begins with the famous words, ”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union….” Our Founding Fathers and Mothers wanted for us to have a government that was ours. They recognized that government was not perfect, but it could continually improve with each passing generation with an active citizenry.
We know many of you are desperate, hanging on by your fingernails, and understandably angry. We know you are struggling to keep your families going. Your stories are important! They touch people. They can move the media, your representatives, and your fellow Americans.
We encourage you to continue to act, to speak out, to organize. There’s an election this fall – all 435 House members and one-third of the senators are up for re-election, including 10 senators who voted against extending emergency unemployment. Get involved in an election and help send those who truly represent your interests to Washington.
We’ve been through other difficult times in America, but people haven’t taken it lying down. They’ve banded together and demanded change. It is time for us to do the same.
For Further Reading:
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Are Not Forgotten, The Fine Print blog, Feb. 26, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Ways to Take Action, The Fine Print blog, March 6, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Time to Petition the Government, The Fine Print blog, March 12, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Compromise in the Senate, The Fine Print blog, March 14, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Boehner Signals Reluctance in the House, The Fine Printblog, March 21, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Extension Clears First Hurdle in the Senate, The Fine Printblog, March 28, 2014
Extending Emergency Unemployment: Senate Finally Expected to Vote to Extend Benefits and Rush through Corporate Tax Cuts, The Fine Print blog, April 2, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Bill Passes the Senate, Increasing Pressure on the House, The Fine Print blog, April 8, 2014
Stories of Americans Cut Off of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Government Matters, April 22, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Extension Expected to Take Back Seat to Tax Extenders, The Fine Print blog, April 25, 2014