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This morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer was kind enough to publish an essay I wrote that details some of the history of unemployment insurance in the United States, its importance in making our economy work more effectively and the recurring, counter-productive efforts by various misguided groups to undermine it. Unfortunately, space limitations forced the elimination of  a couple of passages from my original draft.

Happily, the folks at NC Policy Watch (for whom I hope to be contributing on an occasional basis in the days to come) have been kind enough to allow me to publish the entire piece below. I hope you will enjoy it.

Unemployment compensation: A win-win for business and families Read More

During last summer’s hard-won debt deal, President Obama and Congressional leaders agreed to a set of spending cuts designed to reduce the Federal budget deficit, including a $54.7 billion reduction in defense spending for FY2013.

Nine months later, however, leaders in the U.S. House are set to renege on this agreement by reversing the scheduled defense cuts and making up the resulting short-fall by making an additional $34 billion cut over the next ten years to the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—otherwise known as food stamps—a program that was explicitly exempted from the spending cuts outlined in the original debt deal due to their disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable.

These cuts will prove devastating to low- and moderate-income families that rely on this assistance to adequately feed their families.  As Politico reports:

“An average family of four would face an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after Sept. 1 and, even more important, tighter enforcement of rules would require that households exhaust most of their liquid assets before qualifying for help. This hits hardest among the long-term unemployed, who would be forced off the rolls until they have spent down their savings to less than $2,000 in many cases.”
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The Mittster has a reputation as sort of a closet moderate, but as John Schmitt argues persuasively at The New Republic. he’s really espousing quite radical stuff these days in his talk about the poor:

“In taking up this new conservative line, Romney and others are trashing an important part of Reagan’s legacy and a significant bipartisan innovation over the past few decades. The idea of supporting and rewarding work and responsibility met up with the recognition that people need supports—health care, child care, income security—in order to take full advantage of opportunities after they leave the ranks of the ‘very poor’….

Romney deserves mockery for his clumsy language. He deserves to be called out for the fact that he wouldn’t actually “repair” the safety net. But we should also recognize that there is an underlying vision to his mangled words, and that that vision marks a dramatic break from the conservative tradition. It’s also far out of step with what people need in order to participate in the modern American economy.”