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DN Editorial: War on the poor

Politicians' heartlessness shows who really should be unemployed.

WHILE some of us recover from the effects of excessive seasonal spirit, folks without jobs are soon to feel the effects of another kind of spirit: the evil, heartless kind that inspired House Republicans to allow extended job benefits to expire as of tomorrow.

Before they went home last week to share the warmth and abundance of the holidays with their families, these legislators declined to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

That means that 1.3 million laid-off Americans - including 870,000 in Pennsylvania - will stop receiving the benefits that have enabled them to stave off hunger, homelessness and poverty while they continued their search for work. Another 92,000 workers will be cut off when their state unemployment benefits expire during the first six months of 2014, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which was enacted by the Bush administration in 2008 in the face of the devastating economic downturn, extended jobless benefits from 23 weeks to 63 weeks. Congress has repeatedly extended the program. But not this time, even though, according to reports, the number of long-term unemployed is still near record highs, and higher than in any month during the recession.

Some Congressional Republicans think that the economy is recovering just fine. And in yet another manifestation of their disdain for the poor, they believe that the benefits are too costly and give unemployed people incentive to avoid looking for work.

By numerous accounts, that's just wrong. One of the conditions of eligibility is that the recipients continue looking for work, not to mention that the benefit ensures that they can afford transportation to job interviews.

Then there are the economic benefits of the program itself. Recipients pump the money right back into the economy - buying food, clothing and other necessities - thereby providing tax revenue and sustaining jobs. A White House report said extending the program would save 240,000 jobs, and a failure to extend it would mean a drop in the economy's growth by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points.

This isn't the only blow delivered to the unemployed and needy by our misguided legislators in Washington. Last month, they allowed the increase in food-stamp benefits included in the stimulus plan to lapse. And, when Congress returns in January, they'll vote on a farm bill that will result in billions of dollars in more cuts to food stamps for the poor.

The juxtaposition of these actions with the holiday season emphasizes the indifference of politicians willing to consign millions of people to hunger, fear and uncertainty.

There is, however, still hope. Democratic leaders have promised to reconsider the vote on extending unemployment benefits when Congress reconvenes next year.

And, according to one poll, some of the Republicans who let the jobless benefits lapse face election next year in districts whose constituents support the unemployment program.

If there's any justice at all, perhaps these legislators will find themselves unemployed soon enough.

And that would make it a very happy new year, indeed.