House Extends Benefits for the Unemployed; New Coalition Calls for Stronger Action

The House on Wednesday passed another six-month extension of unemployment benefits and extended the COBRA health care subsidy that was set to expire at the end of December.

The COBRA benefit — created under the stimulus bill earlier this year — pays for 65 percent of a laid-off worker’s cost of continuing coverage under an employer’s health insurance plan. For many families, it is the only way they can continue to pay for coverage. According to Families USA, the average cost for family coverage under an employer COBRA plan was $1,111. The bill now moves on to the Senate.

The unemployment and COBRA insurance extensions are critical lifelines for millions of Americans trying to survive the worst recession since the Great Depression. But they are only stop-gap measures.

A broad coalition of 60 organizations, including The Leadership Conference, is calling on Congress to pass legislation now that will put millions of Americans back on the job.

The campaign, Jobs for America Now, will be mobilizing grassroots support in 50 states and coordinating advocacy in Washington. The goal is to build political support in Congress to pass a five-point plan that will:

  • Provide relief through continued and expanded unemployment benefits, COBRA and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  This relief aids those without jobs while at the same time creating jobs by boosting consumer spending.
  • Extend substantial fiscal relief to state and local governments.  Without this aid, state and local governments will have to cut their budgets, budget cuts that would lead to substantial job losses in both the public and private sector.
  • Create jobs that put people to work helping communities meet pressing needs, including in distressed communities that face severe unemployment.
  • Invest in infrastructure improvements in schools, transportation and energy efficiency, thus providing jobs in the short run and productivity enhancements in the longer run.
  • Spur private-sector job growth through innovative incentives and providing credit to small and medium-sized businesses.

More than 15 million Americans are unable to find employment and millions more are only able to find part-time employment, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And while the overall unemployment rate was 10 percent in November, the rate for Black workers was 15.6 percent and the rate for Hispanic workers was 12.7 percent.

“When America gets a cold, African Americans get pneumonia,” said Ben Jealous, NAACP president and CEO. “Our communities are disproportionately suffering from this recession. Job creation has got to be the number one job of Congress right now.”

The NAACP is one of 60 organizations forming the Jobs for America Now coalition.

The Obama administration has been highlighting the need for more action on job creation. In a speech last week, President Obama called the jobs crisis a “continuing human tragedy” and outlined an agenda that includes expanding tax breaks and incentives to small businesses, increasing spending on infrastructure, and a new program of tax rebates for retrofitting homes for energy efficiency. The president also called for the extension of emergency benefits for the unemployed and support for local governments facing budget shortfalls and layoffs.