In a move that surprised advocates for Idaho’s disadvantaged, Idaho Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen
today urged state lawmakers and Idaho’s Congressional delegation to oppose the further extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits. Madsen said his aim is to bolster the program’s long-term strength.
In a letter addressed to Idaho U.S. Senator Mike Crapo and distributed to media outlets, Madsen acknowledged that many people in Idaho have survived the recession thanks in part to the unemployment insurance program — but he also said he believes further extension of benefits will undermine both the program and the nation’s economy.
In a phone interview this afternoon, Madsen said he has hosted business listening sessions, and the deterioration of support for the program has been “striking.” “Many consider it a very damaging program to their business,” he said. “They find that claimants occasionally will tell them they’re not going to accept work because they receive too much on unemployment.” He said the state’s business community is also reacting against the increase in unemployment insurance taxes necessitated by the strain of the recession.
The Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Idaho, Landis Rossi, was dismayed by Madsen’s decision. “Until we see a consistent, steady decline in unemployment numbers, I can’t support not having unemployment insurance as a safety net for Idaho families,” she said. “Unemployment insurance plays a critical role in stabilizing families and making sure they don’t slip further into poverty and crisis.”
Director Madsen called his decision to speak out against extended benefits even as Idaho’s unemployment rate holds steady at nine percent “a dilemma.” He said that his department has reallocated funds and man-hours in order to better serve job seekers.
Federal studies, including this one from the U.S. Department of Labor, have affirmed the role of unemployment insurance in steadying the national economy. Last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that every dollar spent on unemployment benefits adds between 70 cents and $1.90 to U.S. GDP. Congress is expected to extend unemployment benefits in the coming weeks.