So last night The President outlined the new "Framework Agreement" regarding tax policy and unemployment benefits extensions. I want to talk specifically about the UI benefits, because it wasn't until 4pm today, after reading a post on Calculated Risk, that I understood what actually happened, and I do not think I'm alone here. First, the words direct from Obama's mouth:
"Now, under this agreement, unemployment insurance will also be extended for another 13 months, which will be welcome relief for 2 million Americans who are facing the prospect of having this lifeline yanked away from them right in the middle of the holiday season."
Now, I read this as meaning that if I were collecting UI, and my benefits were set to expire, that this program would give me benefits for 13 more months. (note: that's not correct! read on...) The NY Times's reporting of the story was typical of everything I read today:
"In addition, the agreement provides for a 13-month extension of jobless aid for the long-term unemployed. Benefits have already started to run out for some people, and as many as seven million people would potentially lose assistance within the next year, officials said."
Right - again, this makes it sound like benefits will last for 13 more months - super long term UI benefits. But then Bill @ Calculated Risk explained:
"Just to be clear, the "extension of the unemployment benefits" is an extension of the qualifying dates for the various tiers of benefits, and not additional weeks of benefits. There is no additional help for the so-called "99ers"."
"To repeat: this extension doesn't add additional weeks of benefits; it keeps the above structure in place for an additional 13 months."
Which got me wondering: how could everyone have misinterpreted this? Maybe it wasn't everyone - maybe it was just me, who knows.
I have zero intention of debating (at least in this post) the policy of paying unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, 52 weeks, 99 weeks, or more - that's not the purpose of this post - I'm trying to understand/explain what The President was actually announcing, and, having seen the light, I'm pretty shocked that the democrats went for it (or will go for it). I do think that there are a plethora of people out there who, like me, misinterpreted the debate itself, and that this results in anger for a lot of people who are against extending UI benefits, who say things like "99 weeks of UI is enough." Turns out, no one was talking about giving more than 99 weeks of UI at all!
I was under the impression that in this partisan debate where the democrats wanted UI extended and the republicans wanted the Bush Tax cuts extended for the rich as well as everyone else - that the dems were fighting for more weeks of unemployment benefits. In other words, for those people who had used their full (up to) 99 weeks, they'd get further UI benefits if the democrats got their wish. Isn't that what everyone was talking about? The "99'ers" who would soon fall off the benefit bandwagon? It seemed that Obama's proposal was a win for everyone - as Felix Salmon called it - "Oprah Style" - "YOU get a tax cut - YOU get a tax cut - YOU get more benefits!"
However, the truth of the matter is that the "compromise" allows people receiving UI benefits who have not yet received their full 99 weeks to continue receiving benefits up to 99 weeks, while otherwise they would have been ineligible to move to the next tier of extended benefits. Obviously, that's very different from another 13 months of benefits...
It's quite possible that I'm alone on the island here, and everyone else in the world understood this perfectly, but I doubt it - I'd be curious to know if my readers understood this already. Perhaps my desire to stay out of partisan political debates left me in the dark here, unaware of what the true debate was.
I want to mention one more thing here, from the White House's "Fact sheet" on the Framework Agreement.
The framework agreement extended unemployment benefits at their current level for 13 months, through the end of 2011. This will save millions of Americans searching for work from losing their unemployment benefits in the coming months and will help create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In December alone, 2 million workers who would have lost benefits will continue to receive them because of this framework agreement. Over the next year, 7 million workers will no longer need to worry that their unemployment benefits could be eliminated as they search for jobs.
According to the Council of Economic Advisers, passing this provision will create 600,000 jobs in 2011 alone.
Here we see the subtlety that the current level of benefits is being extended for 13 months - not that benefits are being extended for 13 months. And I want to call The White House out on the "create 600k jobs in 2011 alone" claim. That's nonsense. I read the Council of Economic Advisers' paper on the subject, and what it said is that if the extensions were not instituted, employment would decrease by 600k. In other words, it might be correct to say that passing this provision will SAVE 600k jobs, but not that it will CREATE 600k jobs. Is there a difference? Yes - saving jobs keeps things from getting worse, while creating jobs makes things better.