Just a little past noon (on the East Coast), Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post reported that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) had canceled the scheduled 2:00 p.m. meeting he had arranged to talk with Democratic representatives about an unemployment benefits extension bill designed to help the long-term unemployed, the so-called 99ers. The meeting, which was to take place between Democrats Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), was to consider constructing a bipartisan-oriented bill that would get the measure to the House floor for a vote.
Instead of meeting to discuss a 14-week extension to unemployment benefits, Speaker Boehner was called away for an emergency session of budget talks at the White House with President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and other officials in an effort to forestall a government shutdown at midnight on April 8.
Congresswoman Lee's spokesman, Joel Payne, stated, “We’re disappointed Speaker Boehner had to cancel the meeting. We hope it can be rescheduled for next week.”
"Crew of 42," a blog that covers activity within the Congressional Black Caucus, reported that there were plans for a rescheduled meeting sometime next week, but no further details were presented.
The cancellation was just the latest in a long line of disappointments for 99ers who have been battling to get a Tier 5 designation for over a year. The long-term unemployed have watched several Congressional battles over federal funding of the unemployment extensions. The last occurred in December when Congress enacted appropriations that would fund unemployment extensions through December 2011. None of the measures included appropriations for 99ers.
With long-term unemployment at the highest rate it has been since the Great Depression and, according to several government reports, not forecast to become a short-term phenomenon anytime in the next twelve months or longer, the jobless have found a scarcity in jobs available for a return to the workforce as well. With reabsorption into the workforce unavailability, the out-of-work individual has become one of longer duration than in times past. And with finding work more difficult, having to compete with at least seven other people looking for work or looking for a higher paying job, and the lack of jobs being generated in a down economy, the number of long-term unemployed have increasingly become unemployed without benefits -- the 99ers.
At present, there are four tiers of unemployment extensions and emergency benefits available for the jobless who lost their jobs through no fault of their own (which means they weren't fired or did not quit their former job). Unemployment benefits distribution are overseen by the individual states and part of eligibility for part of the system is dependent upon the unemployment rate of the respective state. Some states have extended benefits which allow the unemployed to draw unemployment up to 99 weeks, hence the appellation "99ers." However, some individuals in some states became ineligible for benefits long before 99 weeks expired. The name has come to apply to all jobless who have exhausted their benefits, regardless of the actual number of weeks they were eligible.
Representatives Barbara Lee and Bobby Scott introduced a bill, HR589, to give the unemployed an extra 14 weeks of benefits. Those funds would be made available during the first Tier (Tier 1) of benefits, which currently last for an additional 20 weeks to the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits. The 14 weeks would also be made retroactively available to 99ers.
HR589 is the only active piece of legislation concerning 99ers. Another bill introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was introduced in August 2010. It was immediately relegated to committee and has remained there since.