CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Carte Goodwin was appointed to temporarily fill the seat held by the late Sen. Byrd, he had the good fortune of being able to cast a vote right away that made a real difference for millions of Americans.
West Virginia's newest senator, Joe Manchin, might have a similar chance in the lame duck session of Congress.
This summer, a bill to temporarily extend unemployment benefits was hung up in the Senate for nearly two months. Goodwin was able to cast the deciding vote, which brought relief to around 2.5 million jobless Americans.
Unless Congress acts very soon, 2 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits in December, just in time for the holidays, an outcome that would out-Scrooge Scrooge. This would hurt retail businesses as well, which depend on the holidays for around 20 percent of sales. And the number of people hurt by inaction will only grow in the coming year.
Given the composition of the new Congress that will take its seat next year, this lame duck session may be the only chance there is to help hard-hit families make ends meet.
It's sad that things have come to a point where we have to struggle to get this done. Ever since World War II, Congress has always acted to extend benefits beyond the ordinary 26 weeks when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent. We're holding steady at 9.6 percent now.
There are five jobless workers for every new job that opens up and that situation isn't likely to get better in the coming year. To get through this mess, such benefits should be extended through 2011 or until the job market recovers.
Unemployment benefits are a lifeline to millions of Americans struggling in the wake of the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. In 2009, such benefits kept 3.3 million Americans, including one million children, from falling into poverty.
They are also a lifeline to local economies. Unemployment benefits generally don't sit around collecting dust. Rather, they are spent right away in the community. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that extending benefits through 2011 would produce 700,000 jobs. And generate tax revenues.