Unemployment Extension Passes: What's Next for '99ers'?
The House will vote on the relief measure on Thursday night and forward it for President Obama's immediate signature.
With the contentious fight over an unemployment extension over (at least for now), focus turns to the "99ers" -- those unemployed workers who will not receive additional support from the bill, having already expended their full 99 weeks of emergency federal aid, a cap that the measure does not raise. Surge Desk breaks down the possible outcomes for the 1.4 million Americans who fall into this grim category.
Now that this bill is set to pass, are the 99ers more likely to receive a "Tier 5" expansion?
If you're a 99er, the best-case scenario is an unemployment expansion adding an additional "Tier 5" to the current emergency federal aid package. Some 99ers have been petitioning legislators to do just that via websites such as change.org. But considering how much difficulty Congress experienced trying to pass the unemployment extension bill without such a provision, a Tier 5 appears unlikely.
Supporters of a Tier 5 believe that such emergency aid keeps cash flowing into the limping economy, as recipients turn around and spend it on goods and services. Conservatives argue that extending unemployment benefits beyond the 99-week limit would not only raise the national deficit, but also act as a disincentive to actively seeking employment.
"Realistically, given the economy, I think it would [make sense]" to add a Tier 5 to federal unemployment benefits, economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "The economy is in bad shape -- it is not these people's fault, they didn't do it -- but given attitudes in Congress it's really difficult to see that happening."
What other options do the 99ers have?
Not many. Some families may qualify for the federal Temporary Assistant for Needy Families program (TANF). Because TANF often performs an asset-testing process to determine eligibility, families owning a car or a house are less likely to meet the standards. But according to Baker, even if someone does fit the criteria for this aid, the relief is marginal compared to unemployment benefits.
Another, even narrower option for those who qualify is to apply for disability benefits. But approval can also be a lengthy process and inhibit the applicant from employment opportunities later on.
The best solution, of course, is finding a job. But the numbers currently do not make the odds of that very favorable.
What about the possibility of President Obama using an Executive Order to create a Tier 5?
This idea has been advocated by some 99ers online, but they do not have the constitution on their side. Although the president has the power to issue an executive order in a crisis (e.g., Lincoln and the Civil War, or Bush and military tribunals after 9/11), and although the 99ers' plight is certainly severe, it's not considered comparable to previous emergencies in the eyes of Congress.
According to constitutional law expert Steve Schwinn of the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago, because the legislation that passed today to extend unemployment benefits contains no mention of aid for the 99ers, President Obama's hands are tied.
"Just running through the menu of possible authorities, it's not clear to me that he has any [authority here]," Schwinn told Surge Desk. "And given that Congress seems to be making a deliberate decision to exclude the 99ers, I think you have a real separation-of-powers problem if the president tries to step in and do by executive order what he is unable to achieve through legislation."
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