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  • Congressional Black Caucus Addresses Unemployment Benefits

    by Representative Donald M. Payne Jr.

    Posted on 2014-01-13

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    PAYNE. Mr. Speaker, before I start, let me thank the gentleman from Nevada (Mr. Horsford) for his leadership through the first session of the 113th Congress and into the second session of the 113th Congress. I am honored to be one of the freshmen--actually the ranking freshman in the CBC, if I can take that liberty--but the gentleman from Nevada and the gentleman from New York have distinguished themselves in the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus in the first session of the 113th Congress, and I am honored to serve with them.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today for the 90,000 New Jerseyans who lost their unemployment insurance on December 28 and the 89,000 more New Jerseyans set to lose unemployment benefits in the first half of the new year.

    The people back in my district can't understand how out of touch some of my Republican colleagues have become to think that cutting off this assistance will force the unemployed to get a job. Well, I have news for my colleagues: these people are not lazy, quite the opposite. These people are out every single day searching desperately for work, but the fact of the matter is there just aren't enough jobs for the amount of people unemployed.

    It is up to Congress to pass a jobs bill to put these people back to work, but this Congress has not done that. Until that time comes, we have a moral obligation to help our fellow Americans out and give them the economic security that they need to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their head, and to pay their bills so that they have the ability to continue to look for a job.

    Mr. Speaker, it is called insurance for a reason. These people have paid into this fund, and they must be actively searching for work to receive this critical lifeline. They might have paid into the system for 5, 10, and even 20 years to receive this assistance, and now we talk about cutting them off.

    They are filled with anxiety as they compete against hundreds of others for a job. I know, I have heard their stories.

    A young man by the name of Adam, an arts teacher from Montclair, New Jersey, who holds a master's degree from Columbia University, recently lost his job--through no fault of his own--because of funding cuts in education. Despite his best efforts, he, like so many others, has been unable to find work. With every passing day, anxiety for the well-being of Adam's family grows. Through no fault of his own, he finds himself in this predicament.

    Another young man from my district, Jeffrey from Bloomfield, New Jersey, is now gainfully employed, but was fortunate enough to have unemployment when he lost his job. When he hit hard times during the recession, Jeffrey was thankful that he had at least some money coming in to make ends meet. In his letter to me Jeffrey wrote: I am concerned for my friends and neighbors who might not have been so lucky, who will be devastated by the sudden loss of income. The ability to pay for a roof over one's head and basic living expenses may seem a small measure of dignity, but it means the world to someone who has lost their job that they have devoted years of their life to.

    So I urge my Republican colleagues and the leadership to listen to people like Adam and Jeffrey, to understand this is not about people who are lazy or who are sitting around or who are just biding time and taking in a stipend that they haven't paid into or deserve. These are Americans, your friends, your neighbors, people we all know, relatives, that find themselves in this situation. We must do something for them. We must continue to make sure that they can meet their needs on a minimum basis to keep them afloat until they can find a job. So I urge the Republican House leadership to listen to people like them.

    Mr. Speaker, we need to put a bill on the floor that extends unemployment insurance right away; otherwise each and every week my Republican colleagues delay, more than 3,400 more New Jerseyans are kicked off unemployment and find themselves in devastating circumstances.

    It is unconscionable, it is unacceptable, and we must as the Congress of the United States of America do something about it.

    Mr. HORSFORD. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New Jersey. Again, I commend you for raising your voice and urging this body to do its job on behalf of your constituents, the people of New Jersey who elected you to bring their perspective to this Congress. You are asking the same question many of us are asking, which is to our colleagues on the other side: Do they know what it is like to be unemployed? Do they know what it is like to have to look for a job day after day, week after week, submitting resumes not knowing if you are going to be called back? Do they know what it is like to struggle, or to look one of your children in the eyes and worry about how you are going to make ends meet? That is the reality for 1.4 million Americans today because Congress has failed to act. Whether they have been in that situation or not, they need to understand that is the reality for many Americans.

    I thank you for your comments and for being here during this Special Order hour on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, and I commend you for your hard work.

    Mr. Speaker, the reality of the situation is significant for many.

    {time} 2000 Like my colleagues last week, I went to a local work center in my district, Workforce Connections, to talk with and meet with a group of workers, job seekers, people who were looking for work. When I walked into the center, the one-stop center where everybody looks for the jobs on the job board was packed. There was a waiting list to get in in order to get onto a computer to search for jobs.

    I talked to one unemployed worker. Her name is Alfordeen. I want to just share a bit of her story with you because it hit me that this is who I am fighting for. She is one of those 20,000 Nevadans affected by the expiration of her unemployment insurance.

    She worked for 20 years doing patient admissions for a local medical facility in southern Nevada. She was laid off in 2012, which resulted in her losing her health insurance. Unfortunately, she was later diagnosed with breast cancer and has been living with one of her children while she trains to become certified to get another job. Alfordeen is using her remaining unemployment insurance benefits to cover some of her medical costs, and she just found out recently, fortunately, that she qualifies now for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

    But what Alfordeen told me, what all of the workers I talked to told me, is what she wants most is what she had in 2012: to go back to work, to regain her independence, and to help others do the work that she loves by admitting them and helping them get health care.

    So Alfordeen is an example to me of the 1.4 million Americans who are out there who are trying, who want this Congress to try as well. They expected us to do our job, and we failed them. We failed when we left in December, and we are failing them every day that we don't extend unemployment insurance benefits.

    So I am urging my colleagues to not allow another day to go without us [[Page H180]] taking action. It is true that one person every 8 seconds loses unemployment insurance. It is true that 72,000 additional Americans will be affected every week that this Congress fails to act. But we have the ability to do something about it, and that is why we are here tonight.

    I want to turn now to my coanchor of this Special Order hour. He is a great colleague, someone who I have profound respect for. He works tirelessly on behalf of the constituents who elected him from New York. He brings so many great perspectives to the Special Order topics that we have been able to cover. I would like to recognize him now, the gentleman from New York, Congressman Jeffries.

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