Congress averted another government shutdown by reaching an $85-billion budget deal late Tuesday night, but the new agreement, critics say, leaves out one vulnerable group of Americans: the long-term unemployed.
At the end of the year, federal unemployment benefits are set to expire if not renewed by Congress. That would affect 1.3 million people in the U.S., according the the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit research group that advocates for low-wage workers.
"We are deeply angered that more than one million long-term unemployed workers have been callously disregarded by Congress in its failure to reauthorize federal jobless aid as part of the budget agreement announced last night," said Christine Owens, NELP's executive director.
Owens placed the blame on House leadership for not including the legislation in the broader deal. "It appears that House leadership steadfastly refused to consider renewing this vital program," she said. "This means they either don't know or don't care about the extreme hardship long-term unemployed job seekers face and the catastrophic consequences that will follow for many if Congress doesn't stop the [jobless benefits] programs from expiring."
The extension of unemployment benefits appeared to have bipartisan support, but many Republicans had objected to renewing the legislation, which provides aid to those still out of work once their state benefits expire.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for instance, made an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" and argued that extending the aid would be a "disservice" to workers. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy," Paul said.
In California, an estimated 222,000 residents are expected to be cut off from federal jobless benefits at the end of the year, according the state's Employment Development Department.
Tuesday's deal sets 2014 spending at $1.012 trillion, higher than the $967 billion that would have taken effect on Jan. 15 under the sequester law, but less than Democrats wanted. The increased spending is paid for with new fees and cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, including reductions in federal employee retirement benefits, cuts to the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees who are younger than 62 and not injured or disabled, and new fees on airline travel.