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Opinion: Republicans Continue War On American People By Seeking To Eliminate Unemployment Benefits

Once again, Republicans have announced themselves as the enemy of the American people, continuing to wage war against Americans still experiencing desperate need in part because of the ongoing economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This time the war is formalized in legal proceedings as the people are fighting back against Republican governors who prematurely eliminated the enhanced unemployment benefits offered through a pandemic relief program.

Unemployed workers in Texas, Maryland, and Indiana took their states to court for violating their own laws in canceling the benefits of the federal relief program otherwise scheduled to expire on September 6.  The program supplemented the ordinary unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week.

The two non-profit groups suing Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb argued that the action “violated the clear mandates of Indiana’s unemployment statute — to secure all rights and benefits available for unemployed individuals.”

Marion County Court Judge John Hanley agreed, writing in his decision, “A loss of housing or medical care and the inability to provide food, shelter and adequate childcare for a family constitute irreparable harm pending resolution of this cause of action and are not adequately compensable by an award of damages.”

The lawsuits in Maryland against the state and Governor Larry Hogan argued similarly that Maryland was violating its obligations to its citizens under state law and making it difficult for those struggling economically struggling to find work.

The judge ruled that the state must continue paying the enhanced benefits as the lawsuit progresses, ruling that the plaintiffs would otherwise “face significant hardship.”

30,000 out-of-work Texans sued Governor Greg Abbott for exceeding his power in canceling the benefits, but a judge rejected their request for a restraining order, calling into question the plaintiffs’ legal standing the lawsuit.

But once again it is clear that the Republican Party has zero interest in representing the interests of the majority of Americans and certainly no interest as well in looking out for the welfare of Americans who find themselves in need because of our failing system.

They have turned their backs on representative democracy, seeking to destroy it, and have rejected the fundamental bedrock conception of government that launched the American experiment—a government of, by, and for the people.

They have turned governments they control against the people.

Republicans, generally, and the 26 governors who have canceled the enhanced benefits, specifically, typically argue that the enhanced benefits are dis-incentivizing people from returning to work, even amid mounting labor shortages. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons people are reluctant to re-enter workplaces, such as lack of childcare and continuing health threats from a pandemic not yet fully under control.

But, really, the question isn’t whether enhanced benefits, which tend to equal twice the minimum wage, are keeping people from going back to work.

It’s really whether it is both legal and humane to pay people working a full-time job less than is required to meet their basic human needs in our socio-economic system.

Republicans seem to favor forcing people back to work for wages that don’t allow them to survive in basic ways in America.

They refuse to recognize the needs of Americans and also to advocate for economic measures that ensure Americans who work are remunerated with a living wage.

They refuse to advocate for a more humane way of measuring the effectiveness of our economy than, say, the way Barron’s does in a recent article headlined, “This Just Might Be the Best U.S. Economy Ever,” in which the economy was evaluated in terms only of manufacturing growth and stock market performance, not on how well it was serving people’s basic needs, such as providing clean water.

Maybe measuring the success of our economy in terms of well it works to meet the needs of working Americans would be more effective.

After all, it’s hard to deem this economy the best ever when, as Alicia Adamczyk reports for CNBC, “Almost 30% of Americans couldn’t cover all of their household expenses in late March, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data collected March 17-29. About 18 million adults are still going hungry each month.”

And even without a pandemic, we know that it is impossible anywhere in the U.S. to afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment with a minimum-wage job and impossible in 95% of American counties to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

We have not created through our policies an economy designed to meet human need as its top priority.

And Republicans don’t just not care. They like it that way.  

Just look at the recent American Rescue Plan Act which no Republicans in Congress supported. Senators such as Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney continued to assert, despite every human account grounded in reality, that the relief was unnecessary because Americans are not actually experiencing desperate and dire need. And never mind that the bill provides hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a coordinated COVID-19 response, which includes distributing the vaccine as quickly and widely as possible.

The Republicans’ obstruction of relief packages, dating back to HEROES Act which House Democrats passed last May and McConnell refused to bring to the Senate floor for a vote, certainly constitutes a willful neglect of the American people’s welfare.

Indeed, such willful neglect is built into the defining ideology Republicans hold dear, one that centers the belief not just in small government but, relatedly, that it’s just simply not government’s role to use its resources, including the tax dollars it collects from all of us, to address people’s needs.

Republicans have declared war on Americans, but the people are fighting back.


Tim Libretti

Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman's Press Association.

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