The U.S. Senate should vote to restore benefits to the long-term unemployed when it returns to work this month. A bipartisan agreement reached last week between 10 Democratic and Republican senators is not perfect. But it would put money into the pockets of millions of Americans hit hardest by the job market. And the deal would give able-bodied workers the hope, time and resources many need to get back on their feet.
The agreement, announced by five senators from each party, would restore for five months long-term jobless benefits that expired Dec. 28. The total number of people affected when Congress failed to renew long-term unemployment benefits late last year will total some 2.3 million people by April 5, including more than 124,000 in Florida, according to the National Employment Law Project, which has been lobbying to restore the aid. More than 1 million children in affected families have also been impacted by the cutoff.
The deal would be a lifeline for states such as Florida where long-term joblessness remains stubbornly high. Millions would be able to redouble their efforts at finding a job without having to go further into the cycles of debt and despair. The bill strengthens assessment and referral services to help job-seekers track more quickly into the workforce. And the proposal is fully paid for by extending U.S. customs fees and changing the way corporations contribute to pensions.
The resumption of aid would be temporary, and by backdating it to December the benefits would run only through May. Still, the assistance would be critical to the 72,000 people every week who are losing long-term benefits after exhausting their state eligibility. Millions could at least get by, cover the energy bills from the long, cold winter and make themselves more confident and ready to re-enter the job market.
The Republican support has raised hopes the measure could pass the Senate. Republicans in the House should see the bill as a moderate compromise that serves an immediate public need while giving the economy a boost and being offset elsewhere in the budget.
With the jobs picture still in flux, this is no time for Congress to write off Americans who have something to contribute. And Republicans should not want to give Democrats a wedge issue to use against them in November. Extending benefits to the long-term unemployed is the right thing to do and good politics. The Senate should pass the bill and the House should follow suit.