Happy New Year? Congress to Decide Fate of Federal Unemployment Benefits

On December 31st, everyone will gather together to welcome in the New Year.  Yet thousands of jobless Georgians worry today if Congress will pull the rug out from under them and their families in 2012.

In January 2012, nearly 70,000 Georgia workers, who lost their jobs due to no fault of their own, will be cut off from unemployment payments unless Congress passes legislation to renew the program before it expires on December 31st.

Unemployment payments help workers make ends meet while they search for another job. Nationally, the average unemployed worker has looked for work for about 40 weeks, but the Georgia unemployment payments max out at 26 weeks. And in the South, for 4 out of 5 unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs.  Georgia needs to create at least half a million jobs to return to its pre-recession level but ranks dead last in job growth since the “recovery” started in June 2009. So, without additional weeks of federal unemployment payments and no job prospects, how will Georgians fare in 2012?

Cutting federal unemployment payments will increase the number of poor in our state and hurt local business. Last year, state and federal unemployment benefits kept 3.2 million Americans from slipping into poverty. Forget about “Black Friday”, unemployment payments benefit the local economy because jobless workers can continue to pay rent, buy groceries, and raise children. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that each $1 of unemployment payments generates up to $1.90 in economic growth.

Federal unemployment benefits have never been eliminated or reduced in the 75-year history of the unemployment program during periods of higher than average unemployment rates. And, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that continuing federal unemployment payments in 2012 will create or save 15,000 jobs in Georgia and 560,000 jobs nationwide.

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, for the sake of our family, friends and local economies, let’s hope that Congress will make the right choice to extend federal unemployment payments.

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