To Preserve a Lifeline for More than 6 Million Americans, We Must Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits Now

Posted on in In the News

In my hometown of Austin, there’s a Texan named Anne. Anne was Vice President for an Austin company that borrowed too much. When the economy tanked, her company tanked too, closing its doors and leaving 88 people in the Austin-area — one of the best economies in the country — without a job. Without extended unemployment benefits, Anne says a difficult situation would have become disastrous situation. She has been unemployed for three years. Earlier this year, Anne said that of the 118 jobs for which she had applied, she had gotten 3 interviews. In two of those, employers said that she was overqualified. Unfortunately, being overqualified doesn’t put food on the table, and doesn’t keep a roof over your head.

If it weren’t for unemployment insurance, she says that she and her husband would have been unable to keep their home and purchase necessities to get by, including prescription medications. She is discouraged by the situation and remarked that the real shame is that her story is far too common. This scenario has played out in homes of millions of other people. It has happened to folks from Michigan, from New York and California. It has hit families in every state across our nation..

Don’t Blame the Unemployed for Unemployment
We must work to create jobs. But we must not forget those who need this critical support while they search for one. Unfortunately, Republicans continue to blame unemployment on the unemployed, sounding a lot like the old 1950s doo-wop song by the Silhouettes called “Get a Job”— “Preaching and a crying” telling folks that they are “lying about a job that they never could find.” At a time when there are about five unemployed Americans for every job opening, it is clear that many people remain jobless not because of their lack of wanting to work—but a lack of work.

Congress has never allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire when the unemployment rate is anywhere close to its current level of 9.1 percent. If this Republican Congress fails to act, more than two million Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own will lose their unemployment benefits by the middle of February, including 124,000 in Texas. More than 6 million will lose benefits during 2012.

What my bill would do
So today, I introduced legislation to do two things: continue the current federal unemployment programs through 2012, and for one year, provide some immediate assistance to states grappling with insolvency problems within their own UI programs. The legislation would relieve insolvent states from interest payments on federal loans for one year and place a one-year moratorium on higher federal unemployment taxes that are imposed on employers on states with outstanding loans. According to preliminary estimates, these solvency provisions will stop $5 billion in tax hikes on employers in nearly two dozen states, as we as provide $1.5 billion in interest relief. The legislation also provides a solvency bonus to those states not borrowing from the federal government.

Economists agree: extending unemployment benefits good for workers, good for economy
Despite what has become another talking point for Republicans and their “Jobless” agenda, there is near unanimity among economists that few government expenditures have more positive, stimulative effect on our economy than insurance payments to the unemployed, who use this lifeline to pay the bare necessities while they search for another job. A recent estimate from the Urban Institute says every dollar the federal government spends in federal unemployment generates two dollars of economic growth. The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that preventing UI benefits from expiring could prevent the loss of over 500,000 jobs.

The federal unemployment programs provided over $3 billion in benefits in Texas this year. Imagine the hit Texas would take if those benefits simply stopped, and along with it spending on milk, clothes, rent, mortgage and other basics.

Plug this hole in the safety net now
Creating jobs cannot happen overnight. We cannot pretend that there are enough jobs for everyone who wants one today. We cannot pretend that the unemployed can survive without this support. We cannot pretend that this is a problem for which there is no solution. This is the solution: We must extend federal unemployment insurance for those who need this critical support while they search for a job—and we must do it now.