Tough local coverage of unemployment insurance

unemploymentAs we noted yesterday, Republicans are looking at some very tough polling on their position to let long-term unemployment benefits expire. Not only do bipartisan majorities of voters favor an extension but majorities also say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who blocks a renewal.

A key question is how long the issue will resonate — that is, as other political battles heat up, will the plight of the long-term unemployed evaporate in the minds of voters. If this week’s local news coverage is any indication, the unemployment insurance fight has real staying power.

A quick scan of local coverage of the expiration from the past 24 hours shows a somewhat remarkable array of stories, localizing the issue by tying it to the plight of specific area residents who will suffer. In many (but, alas, not all) cases, the stories make clear that the GOP is responsible for the suffering that will begin on Dec. 28, when 1.3 million long-term unemployed won’t find a check in the mail.

For example, here’s KOB 4 in Albuquerque:

Thousands of New Mexicans are about to lose their long term unemployment benefits right after Christmas – and they won’t get them back unless our state’s lone congresswoman can convince her colleagues to take action early in the New Year.

People like Katharine Hill of Albuquerque have been depending on them. “I’m about to run out of my unemployment benefits,” Hill said. “Going on unemployment is better than having no money, but my whole situation has caused me to become homeless for an entire year.”

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph in West Virginia ran a statewide AP story:

The expiration of funding for long-term federal unemployment benefits will affect nearly 7,000 West Virginians who have been jobless for at least 26 weeks. The number of West Virginia recipients fluctuates from month to month, David Watson, assistant director of benefits for WorkForce West Virginia, told the Charleston Daily Mail.

The Yakima Herald-Republic, in Washington state:

For 1,028 Yakima County residents, it will be like finding a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. Three days after Christmas, long-term unemployment benefits will end for 1.3 million Americans, including those in Yakima County and 25,000 statewide.

“This will make it harder for my wife and me to get by,” said Randy Frank, 54, who was laid off from his regular job five years ago. The benefits “help me continue to look for work and helps with the mortgage.”

The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire:

In less than a week, more than 1,000 Granite Staters will receive their last payment for extended unemployment benefits, as the program with nearly 1.3 million recipients nationwide expires.

Democrats, including N.H. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann M. Kuster, have advocated for extending the program’s deadline again, saying it’s necessary for continued economic growth. Some Democrats have vowed to try to restore the program when Congress returns to work in 2014. But Republicans say extended unemployment benefits aren’t needed in an improving economy, and the cost of extending the program is too high.

The Danbury News Times in Connecticut:

“It’s tough to go out and look for a job when you can’t afford to put gas in the car,” said Eli Ramirez, of Bridgeport. “I’ve been out a year, exhausted everything, and I’m living off my fiancee’s wages. I’ve got five kids to feed.”

Again, these are just from the past 24 hours. There are many more such local stories throughout the country, and it’s easy to see why: Real people are getting hurt because of indifference in Washington.

And you can expect to see even more in the coming days, especially as the Dec. 28 cutoff approaches. Progressives will also be running an inside-outside game to amp up the pressure, as Greg has outlined. The day after Christmas, Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Sandy Levin will hold a press call to urge their colleagues to renew the benefits — one of several such calls this week. Meanwhile you can expect to see targeted advertisements from liberal groups, asking why a particular member won’t allow a renewal of the long-term unemployment insurance program.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the story seems to have legs. That matters not just for the party’s political prospects but more immediately — and importantly — for the prospects of the long-term jobless. With Democrats in unanimous support, it won’t take many Republicans to pass a renewal. Doing so is the best way to rid the local newspaper of these brutal stories.

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