Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Nominee to Run Federal Reserve Unsure When It Will Curb Its Powers to Bail Out Banks

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 4:59 PM EST

Janet Yellen.

On Thursday morning, the Senate banking committee held a hearing on Janet Yellen's nomination to chair the Federal Reserve—the US central bank charged with keeping unemployment low and inflation in check. A telling moment in the hearing came when Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) asked Yellen, the Fed's current vice chair, when the central bank would wind down its powers to bail out banks, as required three years ago by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. Yellen wasn't sure.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Fed doled out $16 trillion in cheap loans to big banks that were reeling from the global financial crisis. To prevent Wall Street from expecting this type of cash infusion in the future, Dodd-Frank restricted the kinds of emergency lending the Fed can do. But the Fed still hasn't crafted these general provisions into specific regulations limiting its powers—and until it does, it's free to do as it sees fit.

At the hearing, Yellen told Vitter that regulations limiting the Fed's bailout powers are still "in the works" and that she'd "try to get it out soon," but said she was "not certain what the time frame is." During questioning at a financial services committee hearing in July, Fed chair Ben Bernanke said the Fed had "made a lot of progress" on in crafting enforceable limits on its bailout powers, and that he hoped to have the final regulations out by the end of the year. Yellen's lack of an answer for Vitter's question suggests that year-end deadline may be off the table.

As I reported in July, financial reform experts think the reason the Fed is dragging its feet is obvious: the central bank doesn't want to cede any powers it may want to use in the future. It's easier for the Fed to hand out money than to upend the way it operates, Marcus Stanley, the policy director at Americans for Financial Reform, told me at the time.

The Fed could be busy with other matters, of course. But Yellen's lack of an answer suggests that limiting its own powers isn't "a high priority for the Federal Reserve," says Mike Konczal, a financial reform expert at the Roosevelt Institute.

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GOP Food Stamp Cuts Would Kick 170,000 Vets Out of the Program

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 1:26 PM EST

Republicans will salute America's veterans Monday, while simultaneously trying to deny them benefits. In addition to reducing housing aid, and denying health care to vets, the GOP is also trying to remove thousands of vets from the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

At least 900,000 veterans rely on SNAP. The House Republican version of the farm bill, the five-year piece of legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture provisions, would slash funding for the food stamps program by nearly $40 billion and boot 2.8 million people off the program next year. That includes 170,000 veterans, who would be removed through a provision in the bill that would eliminate food stamps eligibility for non-elderly jobless adults who can't find work or an opening in a job training program.

CHARTS: The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps.

Veterans returning home from service have more trouble finding work than other folks, and rely more heavily on the food stamp program. The unemployment rate for recent veterans—those who have served in the past decade—is about 10 percent, almost 3 points above the national unemployment rate. War-related disabilities are one reason why. About a quarter of recent veterans reported service-related disabilities in 2011. Households that have a disabled veteran who is unable to work are twice as likely to lack access to sufficient food than households without a disabled service member, according to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This month, SNAP funding was reduced by $5 billion as extra stimulus money for the program expired. While the Senate will never approve the $40 billion in further cuts to the food stamps program that House Republicans want, deeper cuts are pretty much inevitable. The two chambers are in the middle of negotiating a final version of the farm bill, which will contain food stamp reductions somewhere in between the $4 billion level the Senate wants and the level the Republicans want.

Whatever the final number, veterans will likely feel the pinch.

October Jobs Report: Economy Improving Despite GOP

| Fri Nov. 8, 2013 12:26 PM EST

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (D-Va.), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.) during the shutdown.

The economy added 204,000 jobs in October, according to jobs numbers released Friday by the Labor Department, despite the two-week government shutdown that put thousands temporarily out of work, and which economists predicted would dampen last month's numbers. The jobs gain is about twice as many as expected. Employment numbers for August and September were also revised upwards by a total of 60,000 jobs, signaling the economy is strengthening, despite Republican efforts to tank it through budget cuts, shutdowns and default scares.

Even though jobs were added, the unemployment rate increased a tenth of a percentage point to 7.3 percent. This is because of the way job growth is tallied. As Catherine Rampell explained at the New York Times last month:

The jobs report is based on two different surveys—one of households, and one of employers—and it turns out that furloughed federal government workers will be treated as unemployed in the first survey but employed in the second. In other words, the temporary layoff of federal workers will probably increase the unemployment rate, but not (at least directly) depress the payroll job growth numbers.

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