Political Animal


January 17, 2012 11:30 AM ‘Work requirement’ for unemployment aid?

By Steve Benen

When it comes to extending unemployment benefits, congressional Republicans have become increasingly aggressive in demanding a series of “reforms.” GOP officials are eyeing a new system that would cut eligibility, require high-school degrees, and allow drug tests. By most measures, the ideas are misguided, offensive, and in some cases, both.

But in last night’s debate, Rick Santorum went a step further, arguing that jobless Americans should be cut off from aid faster, and adding this head-scratcher:

“What we should do, is have it just like welfare. Give it to the states, put a time limit. In the case of welfare, it was 40 weeks. Give flexibility to the states to operate those programs and even in unemployment, I mean, you can have as we did on welfare, have some sort of either work requirement or job training required as a condition. We’re not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment insurance for a long period of time.” [emphasis added]

So, in Santorum’s mind, it makes sense to require the unemployed to be employed before receiving unemployment benefits?

If you don’t have a job, you’ll be forced to get one before you’d be eligible to receive benefits that go to those without jobs?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Herostratus on January 17, 2012 11:35 AM:

    I think he means some sort of government-provided work -- raking leaves, digging and filling in holes, or whatever.

  • T2 on January 17, 2012 11:36 AM:

    this welfare stuff is just Dog Whistles for the racists in the crowd....or should I say "crowd of racists".

  • Texas Aggie on January 17, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Steve, the man isn't too bright. He was the chairman for the group of lobbyists that met every other week to decide on which republicans they would hire in order to be allowed to write legislation, but he didn't realize that he was part of the K St. project. Cut him a break, will you? He's probably educable.

  • Trollop on January 17, 2012 11:38 AM:

    He's just Frothy.. and, he's definitely misguided and offensive. Nothing noteworthy coming from Santorum.

  • T2 on January 17, 2012 11:38 AM:

    "raking leaves, digging and filling in holes, or whatever." or picking cotton, shining shoes, cookin' massa's lunch.....

  • Gretchen on January 17, 2012 11:42 AM:

    Yet when Obama wanted to create government jobs for the unemployed for infrastructure spending, they yelled "government spending!" and voted it down.

  • MR Bill on January 17, 2012 11:47 AM:

    Uhh, did Frothy Mix just endorse WPA/CCC type 'government makework"? This would be a step forward..

  • Rick on January 17, 2012 11:48 AM:

    What he really wants is the unemployed to work for free, doing jobs otherwise done by public union workers, like school janitors. Oh wait, 9 year old kids are already doing that work.

  • Alan on January 17, 2012 12:01 PM:

    I agree with Frothy to some extent. Instead of long term unemployment benefits, we should have guaranteed employment for all USA citizens using a combination of public sector jobs and subsidized private sector jobs. This should be paid for by a combination of individual income taxes and estate taxes.

  • bdop4 on January 17, 2012 12:11 PM:

    In all honesty, I would subscribe to a program where the unemployed could find work in line with their skill set and attend free public education to acquire new skills, but such a program would have to adequately compensate such efforts to provide for basic needs.

    Bottom line: a large portion of our workforce currently unemployed needs to retool. The problem is that rightwingers are looking to exploit the misfortune of the unemployed, not provide a pathway to economic security.

    It's going to take a lot of money to ressurect our broken economy, and the top 0.1% who have all the money are going to have to cough it up. The smart ones (Buffet, Soros, Gates) know that in the long run, it's in their best interests. The other ones, not so much.

  • Gandalf on January 17, 2012 12:16 PM:

    God knows the unemployed are living like kings and queens collecting way less money then they made at their jobs. You know they're just sitting around smoking weed and eating caviar and watching Oprah all day long.

  • AK Liberal on January 17, 2012 12:30 PM:

    I think he means some sort of government-provided work -- raking leaves, digging and filling in holes, or whatever.

    I think that's what Santorum is getting at, too. I remember we had some programs similar to that once. I'm thinking of the WPA and the CCC. I wonder if Santorum has thought that one through?

  • SYSPROG on January 17, 2012 12:38 PM:

    Altho I do think that Santorum is 'dog whistling' that unemployed people are 'slackers' I think some of these ideas to 'retool' are good. I was laid off in December and need to retool. I have to go thru massive hoops to return to school. I am still looking but willing to go to school anytime of the day or night to continue to upgrade my skills but the regulations are killing me.

  • k l m on January 17, 2012 12:42 PM:

    As one of the longterm unemployed (over 50, professional of 25+ years) I'd like to know just what sort of job he thinks we can get without government help??? I have long been a proponent on WPA/CCC type programs. I have skills that are needed and could well be put to use in local government or public/private projects...but without major job spending from the Federal Government, there's no chance for these jobs to materialize. This is a case in which the government CAN create jobs, but Santorum's cohorts in congress have blocked every attempt to make this happen. They will have to face a day of reckoning.

  • Ron Byers on January 17, 2012 12:47 PM:

    A friend of mine was recently laid off. He is 60 years old and has spent his career as a cartographer. There is no work for 60 year old map makers. Is he going to have to compete with young black kids for janitor jobs in the local schools? It will do his lazy ass some good. After all he is a slacker. If he had worked hard his telecom company wouldn't have outsourced his job to India.

  • chopin on January 17, 2012 1:08 PM:

    Rep, Kid Smith of Georgia (Rethug) was a sponsor of a bill to do random drug tests on all welfare recipients. He was arrested Friday night for DUI. What a blatant hypocrite. I believe all congress critters should be drug tested daily. Punishment of people who create laws for the "others" should be subject to triple-punishment and permanently removed from office on their second offense. There should be no plea bargaining. And if there is a test for stupidity, they should be tested for that as well.

  • slappy magoo on January 17, 2012 1:09 PM:

    When you try to make hay out of stuff like this, it only minimizes the impact of the really important gaffes, or the truly stupid intentional utterances. I'm a dullard, and even I knew Santorum was talking about a sort of work-fare, where in order to get your unemployment benefits, the government at any time can tell you to show up somewhere to paint a school or clean up a park or some other form of labor they don't want to pay someone to do because what the hell, they're paying YOU money for nothing, right? And while some people could argue it's no an invalid point, at a certain point it would be easy for towns or states to stop paying people salary and befits and relying on this workforce, which means that people are expecting the government to solve "all their problems" which Republicans claim leads you down the road to socialism. And as we all know, Republicans care, deeply, about not coming across as hypocrites in a debate over Government's place in peoples' lives.

  • Lucia on January 17, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Are there no workhouses?

  • jd--Central Florida on January 17, 2012 1:28 PM:

    Steve, not to get picky, but high schools don't grant degrees--Bachelor of High School Studies? High schools do bestow diplomas and, for those who have failed in high school(at least in Florida), Certificates of Attendance.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 17, 2012 1:42 PM:

    We can require the unemployed to loan their children to Newt's Kiddie Custodian Camp...

  • mudwall jackson on January 17, 2012 3:39 PM:

    the whole point to unemployment benefits is to allow the jobless the luxury of time to find work. the system is set up to penalize work - you make money, it's deducted from your check because that's a distraction from what you should be doing: finding a real job.

    if you've never had the misfortune of being laid off you might not understand that it takes time to prepare and polish resumes, find openings, fill out applications, make phone calls, network, interview etc. those of you who want to add a work component to unemployment you miss the point. you want to add a job training component to the program fine but make it an option outside the regular unemployment program.

    it might be instructive for santorum and others (including some posting here) to spend some time at an unemployment office and talk to both those looking for work and those administering the program.

    btw, unemployment is already a state-administered program: taxes are collected by the states, benefits vary from state to state, and in normal times there is a time limit, 26 weeks. these aren't normal times.

  • ben on January 17, 2012 4:31 PM:

    I'm in a similar type dilemma. I am disabled, but not enough work history to "be disabled". To qualify for disability, I first need to work a few more years, which may irrefutably prove that I was not disabled in the first place! Joseph Heller had a phrase for this, I think... Catch-22

  • Sammy on January 17, 2012 10:20 PM:

    k l m said "They will have to face a day of reckoning".

    Klm, the problem is that people, many of whom are unemployed, lack health insurance, have lost homes, etc., are the ones who keep voting for the Santorums of this country.

    I just read an article that said the Mitt has a 50% approval rating compared to Pres Obama's 38%.