CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Almost 2,400 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of $1 million or more, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The report was released after about 1.1 million people exhausted their jobless benefits during the second quarter of 2012, when more than 4.6 million filed initial unemployment claims. Eliminating those payments to high earners is one idea being considered as U.S. lawmakers struggle to curb a projected $1.1 trillion deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, with the nationwide jobless rate at 8.1 percent.
"Sending millionaires unemployment checks is a case study in out-of-control spending," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in an email. "Providing welfare to the wealthy undermines the program for those who need it most while burdening future generations with senseless debt."
The 2,362 people in millionaire homes represent 0.02 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. tax filers who reported unemployment insurance income in 2009, according to the August report. Another 954,000 households earning more than $100,000 during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression also reported receiving unemployment benefits.
The reported benefits may include those received by spouses or dependents of
people who made high incomes, or benefits received earlier in the year before a household member got a high-paying job.
Eliminating the federal share of unemployment benefits for millionaires would save $20 million in the next decade, the congressional researchers said in their report.
Congress has expanded unemployment benefits that had been paid for by states and lasted 26 weeks. The federal money lengthened the maximum period to 99 weeks, though the researchers said in practice no state currently offers more than 79 weeks.
Coburn introduced legislation in February 2011 to prohibit federally funded unemployment benefits for people who had at least $1 million in assets in the year before they filed a claim. The Senate voted unanimously for his measure, the Ending Unemployment Payments to Jobless Millionaires Act of 2011. It was later added to another bill, which hasn't passed the Senate.