GOP Scrooges declared, “Bah, humbug,” to the long-term unemployed just days before Christmas. With lawmakers now home for the holidays, the best hope for millions of Americans hit hardest by the recession might be Marley and his three ethereal colleagues visiting congressional Republicans some night this week.
Backslapping took place in Washington after bipartisan majorities passed a budget deal before the holiday break. On balance, it was a satisfactory accomplishment from a Congress that has done precious little else. It will reduce the effects of sequestration and cut the budget deficit by $23 billion over a decade.
More important than the dollars was the symbolism. The deal demonstrated that lawmakers are capable of negotiating and reaching a compromise. Neither party got everything it wanted, but the budget deal offered enough to attract bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
The glaring omission that stands out like a lump of coal in Tiny Tim's stocking was the failure to renew temporary assistance for the long-term unemployed. At the end of this week, 1.3 million American workers will lose the aid that helps them get by until they find new jobs. And if Congress does not act soon, the pain could spread to another 3.6 million.
In California, regular unemployment benefits last for up to 26 weeks. The extended federal benefits then kick in for a few more months. The state Employment Development Department estimates that more than 222,000 Californians currently receive the expiring federal benefits.
The economy and the job market have improved, to be sure. The unemployment rate topped out at 10 percent in 2009, and it has since fallen to 7 percent in November. But that remains high compared to a decade ago.
California fares worse than the nation. The state's unemployment rate remains greater than 8 percent. That represents about 1.5 million people. Things are a little better in Sonoma County, but even here, about 15,000 of our neighbors have not found work.