Durbin Calls For End To Republican Filibuster Of Unemployment Benefits And Cobra Subsidies

[CHICAGO, IL] – Fifteen thousand unemployed workers in Illinois will lose their unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies at midnight tonight due to a Republican filibuster of legislation that would extend the benefits for 30 days, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today at a news conference with unemployed workers at the National Able Network.

Last Thursday night and Friday morning, Durbin led Senate efforts to pass a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies that are set to expire, but one Republican Senator stood in the way by repeatedly objecting.

“Playing politics with working families is cruel,” Durbin said. “I will not stop until we have provided the assistance that struggling families in Illinois and all across America desperately need.”

As of midnight tonight, the additional unemployment insurance assistance provided for in last year’s Recovery Act will expire. Next week, 400,000 Americans looking for work will exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits. Because of UI program rules, over 100,000 of these workers may be forced to wait 13 weeks after any legislation is enacted before resuming their assistance. Within one month, that number of Americans who lose benefits will increase to 1.5 million.

“Today, we are battling the aftershocks of the deepest recession since the federal unemployment program was created,” said Durbin. “Unemployment insurance provides desperate families a helping hand during that gut-wrenching period between the day that the breadwinner loses his or her job and the day that a new job is found. An unemployment insurance check certainly doesn’t replace all of the wages that most unemployed people have lost–far from it. But it at least helps keep their families from going hungry as they hunt for work.”

The additional COBRA health insurance assistance provided for in last year’s Recovery Act will also expire at midnight tonight. The COBRA program allows the unemployed to maintain their health insurance, but it is expensive—often times, too expensive. On average, COBRA coverage would consume nearly 84% of family unemployment benefits.

The Recovery Act provided funding to cover 65% of the cost of COBRA premiums for unemployed Americans. Nationwide, that federal subsidy for COBRA family coverage averaged $722 per month.

“For millions of laid-off workers and their families, this COBRA help has been a lifeline—not only for healthcare, but for their peace of mind,” Durbin said. “But because of the obstruction of one Senator, over the next month an estimated 500,000 workers who have lost their jobs will be ineligible for these subsidies to cover the cost of health care.”