The emergency unemployment benefits were instituted by President George W. Bush in 2008 as the financial crisis ramped up and the jobless rate started up toward the 10 percent peak it would hit the following year. Typically, states provide insurance payments to unemployed workers for up to six months. But as the nation spiraled into recession, and then the recovery struggled to gain traction, the federal government offered repeated extensions, each lasting a period of several months, allowing some people to stay on for 99 weeks. The program has paid out $225 billion in benefits.
Since the start of the recession, Congress has extended federal unemployment benefits 11 times. There will not be a 12th before the deadline -- emergency aid will expire on Saturday.
Those benefits are obviously important to the struggling families that depend on the assistance, but they've always benefited the economy -- the unemployed tend to spend the money quickly, putting those resources right back into the economy.
But congressional Republicans remain strongly opposed to an extension. Senate Democrats intend to renew the fight early in the new year, but it's unclear if the GOP-led House will even consider the possibility of another extension.
When aid expires on Saturday, it will be the first time in modern history lawmakers allowed benefits to lapse with an unemployment rate this high. What's more, independent estimates suggest the policy will cost the economy as many as 300,000 jobs in 2014.
There's also, not surprisingly, a potent electoral fight unfolding. With the public broadly supportive of an extension, Democratic and progressive voices are seizing on the issue to characterize congressional Republicans as indifferent -- if not openly hostile -- to the concerns of Americans still looking for work.
To that end, Americans United for Change unveiled the above clip overnight, which will reportedly run on national cable airwaves today and tomorrow.
AUFC President Brad Woodhouse said in a statement, "This ad campaign is designed to make Republicans consider a new New Year's resolution: to stop purposely doing things to hurt the economy. A prime example is forcing [unemployment insurance] benefits to lapse when the long-term unemployment rate is currently twice as high as when the government let prior extended unemployment benefit programs lapse. What don't Republicans get about this equation: millions fewer people with money to spend equals less economic demand for goods and services and less need for jobs? It's why the CBO consistently ranks unemployment insurance as 'one of the most effective policies for generating economic growth and creating jobs,' because unemployment benefits put money in the pocket of consumers who immediately put it back into their local economies. On the flip side, when unemployed workers have less money to spend, research shows local businesses see their sales drop and job creation is undermined. It's Econ 101 -- and Republicans failed miserably."