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John R.
Democrat RI

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  • Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Jack Reed

    Posted on 2014-01-06

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    Read More about Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act--Motion to Proceed

    REED. Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to vote in favor of the Reed-Heller bill, which would extend unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans--very critical--for 3 months, because it is the right thing to do for these workers, and it is the smart thing to do for our economy.

    Unemployment insurance has been around since the 1930s, and it has historically received bipartisan support. Indeed, I am pleased that Senator Heller has joined me. So this is a bipartisan bill, also. This is something we have to deal with today. It is a huge crisis. As I said, 1.3 million Americans have lost their benefits as of December 28. But we can expect through this next year approximately 3 million more to exhaust their State benefits--typically 26 weeks--and not have this Federal long-term benefit available to them.

    This has always received support on a bipartisan basis because it is not a red State and blue State issue. It is something which impacts this entire country. It impacts people who work. You cannot get this program unless you have a job and, through no fault of your own, you have lost that job. In this economy, people who lose jobs are competing with many others for very few jobs.

    These 1.3 million Americans were pushed off an economic cliff just 9 days ago. This vital lifeline would help them cope. They were not let go from their jobs because of something they did. It was through no fault of their own, and they are searching for work in an economy which has nearly three job seekers for every one job opening.

    Illustrative of this is a front-page story in the Washington Post today. In Maryland, they are opening up a new dairy operation, and what this story speaks to is something that is happening across this country in so many places: When the Good Humor ice cream plant closed here two summers ago, more than 400 jobs and a stable, punch-the-clock way of life melted away, another in a string of plant closings that have battered this once-proud manufacturing town.

    I would add parenthetically that in Connecticut, Rhode Island, west coast, east coast, north and south, we have seen this happen. Manufacturing plants close, move overseas, and shut down entirely.

    The hulking plant sat vacant until a co-op of Virginia dairy farmers purchased it in summer 2013 to process milk and ice cream, though on a far smaller scale than the 60,000 cases of ice cream that global food giant Unilever churned out every day.

    Randy Inman, the board president for Shenandoah Family Farms, said he expected the plant's revival to trigger plenty of interest in its three dozen or so initial jobs. What he did not expect: 1,600 applicants and counting--a deluge.

    That is what this economy is about. Skilled people lose jobs through plant closures, many of them working for decades, and suddenly they see a possibility. But it is not one job for one applicant. It is 1,600 applicants for about 36 jobs. They are trying--they are trying awfully hard. But unless we pass this legislation this evening and begin the process, we are not trying.

    On the economic side of the ledger, moving away from the human dynamic, the nonpartisan Congressional [[Page S6]] Budget Office estimates that failure to renew unemployment insurance will cost the economy 200,000 jobs and sap 0.2 percent of economic growth by the end of the year. Why? Because these payments go to people who are really desperate. They need this extra cash. It is about $300, maybe $350 a week. They need it to pay rent, to buy groceries, to keep the boiler running in subzero temperatures, to keep their families together as they look for work. By the way, in order to collect, you have to keep looking for work.

    So this program is not just fair to people who have worked hard. It is smart for our economy. This is one of the best fiscal tools we have available to ensure that we are creating demand, creating additional jobs. As I indicated, if we do not pass this, if these benefits lapse and go away, 200,000 jobs will be lost--at a time when every Member of this body would say one of the most important jobs is to create more jobs in America. We can do that, but we have to start today on this procedural vote.

    Our bill is designed to help families who have weathered the toughest part of the great recession--2008, 2009, 2010--and many were laid off about 1 year ago. The maximum extended unemployment benefits is 72 weeks, which includes, in most cases, 26 weeks of State benefits. So they got through the hardest part of this recession, which suggests to me these are good workers. These are people who were struggling and working when unemployment was much higher, and now they need help. I believe we have to give them that help.

    We should be working together to create an expanded economy so the jobs are there, so that when there is a new plant opening it is not just 36 jobs and 1,600 applicants, so it is a lot more jobs. In fact, we would like to see it the other way. We would like to see 1,600 jobs and 1,600 applicants. We have to do that.

    I have heard from a lot of my colleagues who said they cannot do this because they need an offset.

    This has traditionally been emergency spending. It is emergency spending up until December 28 because we extended it last year on an emergency basis, probably creating on the order of 200,000 jobs--just as we will lose 200,000 jobs if we do not extend it--and helping our economy overall. We have to do this.

    We have tailored this--Senator Heller and I--so that it is just 3 months, so it provides immediate assistance to unemployed workers. It is retroactive, so we will pick up the people who lost their benefits on December 28. But it also gives the Senate, the appropriate committees, and the House the ability to think through this program in an orderly way, to make changes if necessary, and to look for appropriate offsets if it is deemed that those offsets are necessary. But it will in these 3 months ensure that people have something to help them get by while we do our job.

    By my count, colleagues have voted to move forward on these non- offset emergency benefits more than 10 times since 2008. More than ten times we have taken up this unemployment insurance program and we have passed it on an emergency basis without offsets, so this is not a new, novel approach. In fact, what is somewhat new is actually providing offsets for this emergency spending.

    I wouldn't hesitate to say I venture that if we brought up a bill that had huge tax cuts, particularly for the wealthiest corporations and individuals, there would be very little discussion on the other side that it should be offset, but when we are talking about a program that helps working people, we have to have offsets? Traditionally, we have not done it, and we can have that conversation, but in order to have it appropriately and help these people, we have to move this legislation forward to give us the time to work constructively, collaboratively, and thoughtfully on the program and also on possible offsets.

    We should not be filibustering this measure. We should be passing it and then working collegially and cooperatively to improve the program if we can and, if we deem it appropriate, to pay for the program.

    I have heard some of my colleagues say we need offsets. They are very vague about what types of offsets. There are some suggestions about Medicare, Social Security, or discretionary spending. I do not think Americans, our constituents, would want to see those types of cuts. I think they are relieved, in fact, that through the good work of Senator Murray and Congressman Ryan, we have a budget for 2 years and we are doing appropriations bills and we are beginning to provide certainty and support for the economy.

    I do sense, though, that my constituents know there are many people out there who are struggling to find a job, who want to work and need a little help just to get by. That is what we would be doing if we pass these measures this afternoon or begin the process of passing them this afternoon.

    Again, I think if we are going to seriously talk about offsets or programmatic changes or responding to different dynamics in the economy, it should not be done here on the floor with dueling amendments or dueling proposals, it should be done through regular order in the committee.

    I offered a 1-year extension that was not offset, and my Republican colleagues objected, and I completely understand the privilege of doing that and the right to do that. One of the arguments was that it should go through committee. This 3-month bill does both. It helps people immediately, and it gives us the time to do our job.

    A few weeks ago I also came to the floor to address an argument that has been percolating throughout this discussion that somehow this whole unemployment insurance program is just being abused, that beneficiaries would rather collect than work. The reality is that I think $300 a week or $350 a week is not something for which people would give up good jobs or allow themselves to be displaced from those jobs just to collect the benefit. I believe Americans really want to work and they want to get back to work as quickly as they can. They want to do the work for which they have been trained. They want to do the work in which some of them have spent decades investing not just their time but their whole selves.

    One of the interesting things about work is that it is not only a form of economic remuneration, it is a way we define ourselves. Within a few minutes of meeting any stranger, I bet one question pops up: What do you do for a living? It is awfully difficult today for millions of Americans to say: I am just looking desperately for a job. But millions are.

    I discussed earlier that there is academic research out there that has been bandied about suggesting that, no, this is a ruse, an abuse. But research actually supports the notion that individuals would rather work than collect unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance benefits, as I have indicated, are a fraction of what an individual would earn in the job he had previously. These are benefits that keep people whole while they are searching for work.

    There was a very eloquent editorial by Charles Blow in the New York Times that addressed some of these issues. I think his words are very thoughtful because they strike the right tone. He wrote: Whereas I am sure that some people will abuse any form of help, I'm by no means convinced that this is the exclusive domain of the poor and put-upon. Businesses and the wealthy regularly take advantage of subsidies and tax loopholes without blinking an eye. But somehow, when some poor people, or those who unexpectedly fall on hard times, take advantage of benefits for which they are eligible, it's an indictment of the morality and character of the poor as a whole.

    I don't think that is the case. I agree with Mr. Blow. These are people who want to work, but they need some help. We have given them help in the past, and we should continue to do so.

    This program has been a critical, crucial safety net for families, helping them avoid poverty, helping them get back on their feet, helping them get back into the workforce. It has been with us since the Great Depression. It affects a whole spectrum of individuals. Indeed, if we look at 2012 data, about 40 percent of the households that receive these benefits had an income prior to job loss of between $30,000 and $75,000. These are middle-income Americans who would much rather be working and making close to what they made before they were laid off than [[Page S7]] collecting $300 a week. So these benefits are not the exclusive province of the very poor.

    In fact, more and more they are middle-class, middle-age people who never thought they would be on unemployment insurance, who need this. They are supporting elderly parents. They have children. They have mortgages. They had a professional career--accountant, paralegal, bookkeeper. They are now looking desperately for work. They are people who used to work in dairy processing plants or people who used to work as vice presidents for sales who are so desperate--I assume some of these people, if we looked at their resumes, would be qualified to do many things other than work at a plant, but they are looking because they desperately need work.

    We hear this argument, though: Oh, it is a program that doesn't work and the people are undeserving and we are not even doing them a favor by letting them have this benefit. I disagree. I think we have to pass this measure. We have to do it because it is the right thing for these families, it is the right thing for our constituents, and it is the right thing for the economy. It would be foolish, frankly, to take a program that we are confident can save 200,000 jobs, can increase GDP by .2 percent, that is one of the best forms of fiscal policy to stimulate demand and economic growth, and say we are not going to do it. I think we say we have to do it.

    There is another aspect of this, too, particularly appropriate to the issue of long-term unemployment. We are seeing a remarkable number of long-term unemployed individuals in this recession. Typically, Congress has only ended these benefits when the long-term unemployment rate was 1.3 percent. Today it's double that at 2.6 percent. Again, this program is a program that takes care of the long-term unemployed.

    The standard program in the States is one of 26 weeks. If you have a brief episode of unemployment, if you lose a job and then 5 weeks later you get a job, you are in that first tranche of State benefits. The long-term unemployed are those who have been without work for at least 26 weeks. We have seen the number of long-term unemployed double since previous recessions--from 1.3 percent to 2.6 percent. So this program is more important now than in any previous economic downturn we have had based upon looking at these numbers. This is another reason we have to extend these benefits.

    I urge my colleagues to support this procedural vote so that the full Senate can consider the measure and move toward passage. We need to move swiftly to pass this bipartisan bill to provide some certainty, some stability, and some support for families who are struggling in a very difficult market.

    The answer I suggest to those who are considering voting against cloture this evening is, fine, you can come down and tell the clerk no. What are you going to tell the 1,600 people in Hagerstown, MD, and across this country who are desperately looking for work and need some support? What are you going to tell them? No? I hope not.

    I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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