Dennis Seid: Extend jobless benefits – or not

Extending unemployment insurance benefits is a waste of taxpayer money because it discourages the jobless from looking for a job.
That’s probably the view of most people who have a job and who rail at any more runaway government spending.
But if you’re one of the millions of unemployed – including about 145,000 Mississippians, based on state Department of Employment Security estimates – an extension is a no-brainer.
The Senate last week clashed mostly on party lines on whether to extend jobless benefits. Democrats, pushing for the legislation, said Republicans were being the party of “no” again and denying their fellow Americans’ much-needed lifelines. Republicans, meanwhile, said they supported the extension, as long as cuts were made elsewhere to offset the additional spending. After all, they argued, deficit spending has gotten out of control.
And according to the International Business Times, the extension easily could have been offset since only half of the nearly $800 billion stimulus money has been spent.
Mississippians can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The extension will allow them a maximum of 79 weeks of coverage. In some states, a maximum of 99 weeks is allowed, after combining state and federal laws.
The new extension would benefit about 8,000 Mississippians. Nationwide, about 2.5 million people will be affected.
Nationally, the average maximum weekly benefit is $309. In Massachusetts, the average maximum weekly benefit is $943 while Mississippi has the lowest at $235.
Unemployment extensions since the Great Recession began have cost $120 billion. The new extension will cost about $33 billion. And, as critics ask, isn’t our deficit big enough?
According to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, 15,107 initial state unemployment insurance benefits claims were filed in June. Continued claims totaled $161,398. Nearly $25 million in benefits was paid out.
And according to MDES, the weekly benefit – again, counting only regular unemployed insurance benefits and not federal program amounts – averaged about $180 a week.
I doubt that very many people are living large on that meager amount. If anything, it should inspire them to find a job even sooner.
Yes, there are people who game the system, sitting around collecting government benefits at our expense. The more we can reduce or eliminate that, the more money we can get into the hands of people truly in need.
As we recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression and hope a dreaded double-dip doesn’t happen, we have to help fellow Americans meet their needs.
In the long term, keeping the unemployed families fed and helping them hold onto their houses serves the greater good.
For those dead-set against government overreach, that doesn’t matter. But it should.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com. Follow him online: blog (NEMS360.com/pages/bizbuzz) and Twitter (@dennisseid).

Dennis Seid