As of today, nearly two million Americans who are among the long-term unemployed have been without federal unemployment extension benefits for 46 days.
While that means hot water for some Republicans who have been filibustering passage of a bill extending benefits, it also means that millions of Americans who are already poor, are becoming more poor in a multitude of ways: spending down savings, accepting low-paying and irregular work, moving to Social Security at age 62 with reduced benefits, and dropping out of the labor force entirely.
Never in more than 65 years have so many workers been without a job and without a government lifeline. Congress cut off 1 million people en masse in December when it permitted a special emergency program for the long-term unemployed to lapse. Since then, their ranks have been growing by about 72,000 a week. -WaPoTo make things worse for those hurting in this economy, Congress also cut food stamps. This cut in nutritional assistance represents an austerity double-whammy for many of America's poor...
Last week President Obama celebrated giving Americans "a shot at opportunity" when he signed into law a new farm bill that cuts food stamps.
Fact is, that very bill will cost already poor New Yorkers an average of nearly $1180 per year in food assistance that they cannot afford to give up.
In contrast to the President's bromide about "opportunity," these are real dollars being cut from those who are already suffering. It's also nothing new.
At a point in time when President Obama seems too timid to even discuss inequality by name, much less boldly advocate for economic justice, it is hardly news that we are passing budgets on the backs of those who find themselves out of work and hungry.
While buoyant talk of opportunity may play into comfortable myths of upward mobility, our president cannot expect a public whose friends and relatives are suffering the highest rate of long-term unemployment in over sixty years (as a share of overall unemployment) and who are faced with collapsing incomes...to simply ignore what we see around us every day.
The truth is that the battle over unemployment benefits and food assistance has been essentially a political battle. Both sides think they can make gains in 2014 by posturing and playing to their base over this essentially rightward-leaning 'side battle.'
Federal unemployment extension benefits, for example, had provided up to 77 weeks of coverage to the long-term unemployed; on December 28th, this was cut to zero weeks. You read that correctly. The present bill would restore about 12 weeks of federal extension coverage (a far cry from 77 weeks or the 99 weeks provided at the height of the Great Recession.) This follows a familiar pattern in which the austerity agenda wins even when it "loses."
What the long-term unemployed need are good jobs. Though these extended benefits are pure stimulus, there is little in extending benefits that would create meaningful middle-class jobs and build an environmentally sustainable economy. (Goals which should be the central agenda of the Democratic Party.)
In terms of the amount of money it would cost to extend the benefits for a mere three months...$6 billion is dwarfed by the $682 billion the U.S. spent on military expenditures in 2012 or the $150 billion net worth of the Walton Family.
In the meantime, millions of American families are spending down their savings and seeing a permanent decline in their economic standing due to policies of ongoing and needless austerity.
People like Anngel Robinson of Brooklyn:
Anngel Robinson, 43, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is one of the New Yorkers facing a $90 a month cut. She receives $300 a month in food stamps and $200 a week as a nanny, and has trouble providing her three teenage kids with the basics.Last week I asked, what kind of country do we want?
Two of her kids needed winter coats, and, "I had to put aside little by little until I got the amount" needed, she said outside of a food stamp center in Brooklyn.
"Things that my kids want, they really can't have." -NY DailyNews
With every day that unemployment benefits to millions of Americans are delayed and much needed food assistance is denied, that question is being answered with dollars out of the pockets of those who have the very least.