Today, we begin a new month, but Congress’s failure to fix the federal estate tax continues. The efforts of some members of Congress to help the wealthy by reducing (or eliminating) the federal estate tax might be a key reason why unemployment benefits start expiring today.
Extended jobless benefits start ending -- a CNN Money article, by Tami Luhby -- provides a summary of what starts happening to unemployment benefits today:
Starting Monday, the jobless will no longer be able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy.
Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.
These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.
Because the Senate did not act, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.
That could be devastating to the unemployed who were counting on that income. In total, more than one million people could stop getting checks next month, with nearly 5 million running out of benefits by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.
Lawmakers repeatedly tried to approve a 30-day extension this week, but each time, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., prevented the $10 billion measure from passing, saying it needs to be paid for first.
Notably, the CNN Money article does not explicitly mention the federal estate tax as a reason for the gridlock in the Senate. But an op-ed column in the Washington Post -- Living with partisanship, by E.J. Dionne Jr. -- explains that the federal estate tax is a key reason why Congress did not extend unemployment benefits:
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) has put a hold on the extension bill, but one of the key reasons the measure is blocked is the effort of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to use it as a way of forcing a cut in the estate tax. Kyl is essentially leveraging the unemployed to get a deal on estate tax relief that would cost $138 billion over the next decade, according to estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The estate tax has already been cut sharply, so the reduction Kyl is pushing along with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) would affect the estates of fewer than three out of every 1,000 deceased, according to the Tax Policy Center.
The proposal helps estates worth more than $7 million in the case of couples. I guess struggling millionaires deserve the same empathy we feel for those without a job.
And notice this: Especially in the Senate, what passes for "bipartisanship" too often involves a Democrat such as Lincoln allying with a Republican on behalf of the wealthiest interests in the country. And we're supposed to cheer this?
See also Isaiah J. Poole, Kyl Does The Despicable: Holds Unemployment Benefits Hostage For Estate Tax Cut, Campaign for America’s Future: Blog for Our Future, Feb. 25, 2010 (“Starting Monday, 1.1 million people will lose their unemployment benefits because right-wing Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., thinks its more important to give tax breaks to millionaires than to ensure that nearly broke people won't get thrown out of their homes or go hungry.”).
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On a subject related to unemployment, I found this CNN Money video regarding the status of economy to be very informative: