A group of female House Democrats is urging Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, to allow a vote on extending federal unemployment insurance to help 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers facing the expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program on December 28.

Congress recessed without passing an extension of the program, leaving more than a million people worried this holiday season about how they will provide for their families. In addition to the 1.3 million who will lose their benefits on December 28, an estimated 1.9 million more long-term unemployed workers and their families will lose access to this aid by July 1, 2014.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a conference call with reporters Monday that the situation is particularly poignant during the holiday season.

“The issue of unemployment insurance has been part of the safety net for our country, not just for individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but for an economy that is able to go up and down in terms of cycles, with the knowledge that workers would be protected,” said Pelosi. “I don’t know if our colleagues who have opposed passing the unemployment legislation before we left know or care about the impact on families. I pray and think that they care. They just may not know what the impact is, and the impact is very, very strong. It hurts the dignity of a family, of a worker who has worked hard and played by the rules and lost his or her job through no fault of their own. Imagine that 1.3 million people will not be getting an unemployment insurance check by December 28. That will be the cutoff. Imagine the devastation that causes for a family. It may mean that they cannot keep their home or pay the rent or the mortgage.”

Pelosi pointed out that unemployment insurance is one of the biggest stimuli to the economy. “For every dollar paid in unemployment insurance, that money is spent immediately, injecting demand into the economy, creating jobs,” she said. “For every dollar, it’s about $1.70 returned to the economy, and a very fast way, economists tell us, of stimulating the economy.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., noted that even with a job many families are struggling to get by in today’s economy, as incomes have stagnated, while the prices of gas, food, mortgages and college have increased. “When a parent, especially a single parent, loses a job, it can be a catastrophe for the entire family,” she said. “It’s hunger and poverty, stress and sickness, and above all despair. All follow in the wake of joblessness and make it much harder for men and women to get back into the workforce.”

She pointed out that since 2008, 16.9 million children have benefited from federal unemployment benefits by living with a parent or guardian that was receiving them. In 2012, 5.5 million children received either state or federal unemployment insurance, including about 2 million who were receiving federal unemployment benefits. In 2012, 450,000 children were kept out of poverty by the recipients of either state or federal unemployment benefits. In Connecticut, over 29,000 men and women will lose their unemployment insurance by the end of June and 85,000 by the end of next year.

“These are families who are struggling,” said DeLauro. “They are doing everything they can to find a job. Our failing to extend these benefits will cost us between 240,000 and 310,000 jobs next year. They reduce our growth by close to half a percent in the first three months of next year. We can’t let this happen. Since President Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to extend these benefits when they are needed. We shouldn’t be making it harder for working families.”

DeLauro quoted Pope Francis, who said recently, “We should all be working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty. To promote the development of the poor, this means education, access to health care, and above all employment.”

Mary Lowe, an unemployed health care administrative worker from Ironton, Ohio, also spoke on the call. “I’m a wife and a mother and someone who has worked all my adult life up to this point,” she said. “I worked part-time through high school and full-time through college, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in health care administration. After 15 years of management experience, working for a major medical center, I left because that employer was beginning large-scale layoffs at the time. I took a position as a general manager at a local restaurant chain, and unfortunately I was laid off from that at the end of February 2013. It was the first time I had not been working since I was 16 years old. That’s 31 years. I spend virtually every day searching for work and applying for jobs, but there are a lot more people looking for jobs than are available.

"I’ve even taken classes to prepare myself to get a teaching certificate in hopes of starting a new career path," Lowe added. "I’ve had interviews, including for jobs that pay as little as $10 an hour, and for those jobs I’ve been deemed overqualified. This is the first time in my life I ever received any kind of unemployment insurance and it’s helped us stay afloat. It helped me keep up with my house payments and my utilities. We’ve scraped by to support ourselves and our adopted daughter Sophie, who will be three in February. Thankfully, the federal unemployment benefits were there when my state benefits ended in late October of this year, and I have been receiving EUC benefits from my Tier One, about $325 a week, since then. My husband had to sell the music business that had already fallen off before I became unemployed. He already started having health issues, and about two weeks ago he suffered a stroke. Together we worked and saved for more than 10 years to be able to buy our home seven years ago. Then we got Sophie. Our American dream and our good life seemed to be a reality. Sophie is going to have a Christmas with a few small gifts because I squirreled away about 50 bucks.”

She said with emotion in her voice that unemployment benefits had provided a lifeline for her family, and she has called her local Congressman, Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, along with Boehner, to ask them to extend the benefits. She couldn’t believe that Congress left for recess without extending unemployment benefits.

“The callous indifference displayed by lawmakers is just beyond comprehension,” said Lowe. “I hope and I beg that they restore and renew these benefits, and do it without delay. It really directly will impact whether I can keep my home.”

Unprecedented Cutoff

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., noted that before the call started, the lawmakers had been discussing their plans for the holidays, but that it’s a very different picture for the unemployed facing the cutoff of their benefits.

“We can’t allow this to happen,” said Schakowsky. “These horrendous decisions about how families will survive are unconscionable. We join our voices with women’s and labor and faith and consumer groups around the country who are demanding that the House Republicans move immediately to schedule a vote on extension.”

Schakowsky said that in her state, about 82,000 people are set to lose their unemployment insurance this Saturday. An additional 89,000 people in Illinois will lose their coverage in the first six months of the year. The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that this will cause a loss of 13,345 jobs in Illinois.

“It’s just incomprehensible,” said Schakowsky. “We could have prevented that and acted to extend emergency benefits during this time of high long-term unemployment. In order to even qualify for unemployment benefits you have to be looking for a job. This emergency compensation program is designed for areas where there are many people applying for the same open job, sometimes as many as 100 people for every job opening. It is completely unprecedented that in this current economic climate, Congress hasn’t taken action. Democrats have urged Speaker Boehner to schedule a vote so that we could extend the financial lifeline to men and women who want to work, who are looking for work but can’t find work. We know that the rate of long-term unemployment right now is 2.6 percent. We have never discontinued emergency long-term unemployment insurance program when the long-term unemployment rate has been above 1.3 percent. That’s twice as many.”

She acknowledged that while the unemployment situation has been improving, there are still 1.3 million fewer jobs in the economy than in 2007 when the recession began. “We should be acting to create good jobs,” said Schakowsky. “At the very least, we should not turn our backs on the more than one in three unemployed who have not been able to work for more than six months, and we certainly shouldn’t be doing things to create more unemployment.”

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., pointed out that the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is designed to assist the long-term unemployed. “Unfortunately there are still too many out there in our communities who are still looking for work,” she added. She disputed claims by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., that people are getting benefits for 99 weeks. 

“That’s no longer true,” said Bonamici. “That was only at the very height of the recession, and it’s not true now. The program has already been scaled back. Over the past few years, the number of weeks that people can get benefits has been reduced nationally. Now the average nationally is 54 weeks. The program is actually structured to phase out as unemployment rates improve and the economy continues to recover. That’s the way it should be: phasing out as the need is no longer there. This complete cutoff that’s going to happen on December 28 is not good for families, as Mary Lowe emphasized so poignantly. It’s also not good for the economy. This failure to extend has a real impact on people. In my state, in Oregon, up to 20,000 people are going to lose their benefits on the 28th, and sadly this just means that more people are going to slip further into poverty. These dollars are put back into the economy. People who get this unemployment compensation aren’t saving the money. They use it to pay their mortgages, to buy groceries, to take care of their families. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, right here in Oregon, failing to extend the program is going to cost more than 3,800 jobs in addition to causing more people to slip further into poverty. I am deeply disappointed that the House leadership didn’t bring forward an extension before we left D.C. This should not be a partisan issue. This is about taking care of families and taking care of children, and making sure that people can stay in their homes.”

Impact on Veterans

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., pointed out that Illinois has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country, so the issue hits close to home. More than 80,000 families in Illinois will lose their benefits when the EUC program expires. A veteran who lost both of her legs in the Iraq War, she also pointed to the impact on unemployed veterans.

“When I was a teenager, my dad was a World War II and Vietnam veteran, and when he lost his job in his fifties, it was a very difficult time,” Duckworth recalled. “We were on unemployment insurance and we were on food stamps. My dad, like so many of the unemployed today, did everything he could to find work and he was turned down again and again. We did everything we could as a family to try to make ends meet. We weren’t just sitting around collecting a check. I was the only one that could find a job for $3.10 an hour, the minimum wage. Like my dad, there are many thousands of young veterans who are going to be without an income if we allow unemployment insurance to end on December 28. Of the 1.3 million Americans who will lose their benefits, 20,000 of those are recent veterans, people who just came home from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have just left the military after so honorably serving our nation, and now we’re going to abandon them at Christmastime. They certainly didn’t abandon us. And among those veterans are many women veterans, and studies have shown that women veterans enter into homelessness even faster than male veterans, and the main cause of homelessness among veterans is unemployment. We need to make sure that we do better for our vets.”

She pointed to one of her constituents who was laid off from a manufacturing job three years ago. Despite hundreds of job applications, she has only received about 10 phone calls.

“People are not hiring and we can’t abandon these folks,” said Duckworth. “In my work on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I see so much waste and fraud in government. I see tax breaks for large corporations that don’t pay their fair share, yet we want to cut spending on programs like unemployment insurance that is a safety net for so many hardworking Americans that are trying their very best.”

Pelosi said she had hoped that when Democrats in the House allowed Boehner to pass the budget agreement this month, he would allow a vote on extending unemployment insurance, but he said no. She pointed out that some of the unemployed, including one scientist who worked for the government and testified recently before Congress, had lost their jobs as a result of sequestration. Now they are losing their unemployment benefits as well.

During a question and answer session with reporters, Pelosi insisted that the unemployment insurance program should be treated as emergency spending, and Congress should not be required to come up with an offset to pay for it, as Boehner has insisted. She was asked whether the money could come out of savings from the farm bill, but she does not favor this approach as it would likely involve cuts in food stamps for the poor.

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