On Thursday, Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) signed a bill which extends unemployment benefits. According to many critics, the legislation will add another $34 million to the federal deficit. The measure passed which means that thousands of Massachusetts residents could see their benefits restored.
By a vote of 272-152, the House passed their version of an unemployment benefits package which was promptly sent to President Obama. Obama signed the House bill the same day and appears confident that the funds will be distributed as quickly as possible. Before the package was passed, an estimated 70, 000 local Massachusetts residents were slated to lose coverage by the end of November.
“‘I have always had a very good job, I work hard, PAY TAXES and I certainly have not been living in excess. Last July my company had to cut staff and my entire team was let go. I have never had a problem finding a job but this search has been extremely difficult…Unemployment benefits helped me to stay on track with life’s basic necessities such as food, gas, insurance, etc,'” explained one of Tsongas’s constituents. Such sentiments were read aloud by Tsongas as she advocated on behalf of her district.
Critics, including Sen. Scott Brown, point out that while extending benefits are necessary alternative funding should be considered. Brown contends that unspent stimulus resources should be utilized because they are, “…just waiting to be used…and what to better way to use them today, then to return them directly to the unemployed Americans who need them most. That is real stimulus, which can help the economy – instead of just letting the money sit around for years without being spent.”
Jon Golnik and Sam Meas, two of Tsongas’s conservative challengers, favor legislation to extend benefits without adding to the deficit. While crafting a “deficit-neutral” bill is laudable, a potential problem is that it could take a long time to frame it and gain majority support. Thursday’s bill took months to resolve before any semblance of a package could be passed. Given the high demand for benefits, it seems unlikely that the public would wait a long time for a solution. The problem for any candidate right now is to create popular economic solutions in as little time possible.