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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 2014-01-08

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

    REED. Mr. President, it has been 11 days since Federal unemployment insurance expired for 1.3 million Americans, and every day more Americans lose their benefits as their 26 weeks of State benefits expire.

    I hope my colleagues join Senator Heller and me in our efforts to swiftly pass this 3-month extension. Many of my colleagues have talked about issues with respect to a longer term piece of legislation, the cost of it, should we pay for it, and are there changes necessary in the program to make it more effective and efficient. Those are thoughtful and worthy considerations, but they should not deprive 1.3 million Americans--and that number is growing each day--basic benefits. These are modest benefits--about $300 a week--that allow them to just keep their families together, keep trying to search for a job.

    I would point out that the only way one qualifies for this benefit is, No. 1, if someone had a job and they lost it through no fault of their own, and they are constant in keeping up the search for work. That is one of the requirements. It is all about work. In this economy, it is all about the fact that there are two or three job seekers for every job. In some parts of the country--in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, [[Page S89]] Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, States that have high unemployment--it is not just three to one, in some cases it is more.

    I mentioned on the floor just 2 days ago an article that appeared in the Washington Post that talked about a new dairy opening, or reopening, in Hagerstown, MD, with 36 jobs. They thought there would be a large demand for the jobs, but there were basically 1,600 applicants for 36 jobs. That is not unique to that town in Maryland. That is, unfortunately, something that is happening all across this country, and it reflects the need to extend these benefits immediately.

    We have serious issues to work out, but we understand, or we should understand, that to do it carefully and thoughtfully requires time and requires the attention of the experts in the relevant committees. In fact, I can recall coming down here before these benefits expired asking unanimous consent to extend them for 1 year, and one of the responses, one of the objections from my colleagues on the Republican side was we have to do this through the committee. We have to do this thoughtfully and deliberately. We have an opportunity to help people who desperately need help and start that deliberative process, and I hope we do that.

    Yesterday, we took an important step forward. We procedurally moved forward to start consideration of this legislation. I wish to thank again Senator Heller and all of my colleagues who joined in that vote. That has given us a chance to finish the job, but it is going to be a very difficult job to finish.

    I think what we can do immediately--and this might be a two-step process--is quickly pass the Reed-Heller legislation--90 days, unfunded. It will immediately put money into the economy. It will immediately help struggling Americans who are looking for work--they have to in order to qualify for these funds--and it will help overall the economy. As the CBO has projected, if we do not fund for the year unemployment insurance, we will lose 200,000 jobs; 200,000 jobs which would be generated by this program will be lost.

    So we will have a double whammy. We will still have people unemployed searching for work without any assistance and some, in fact, will stop searching. They will give up. Then we will not have the creation of additional jobs because of this money going into the economy, generating further demand, and further demand generating a need to keep people on and hire some more.

    I hope we can finish the job we started yesterday. It was a very important step forward and a very important step forward not only to help individual families, as I suggested, but to bolster economic demand throughout the economy and that is going to lead to growth.

    I find it somewhat ironic when I hear some of my colleagues talking about, oh, we truly need to create jobs. That is what we have to do. Yes, we agree. But there have been so many proposals that have been presented both by the administration and by my colleagues that have not been given consideration--creating a national infrastructure bank which will fund, through a quasi-public mechanism, highway construction, bridge renovations, sewer lines, and those things--that have been languishing for months and months and months and months. So we should get on with those things, I agree. But the immediate crisis is helping these 1.3 million Americans, and that number is growing.

    There is another reason why it is particularly critical to talk about the extended unemployment benefits that are the subject of our debate. We should not end this program now. As this chart indicates, long-term unemployment is much higher today than it has ever been when we terminated these benefits. In April of 1959, when they ended the extended benefits, it was .9 percent--long-term unemployment. In April 1962, .9 percent; .4 percent in March of 1973; .9 percent in 1977; 1.2 percent long-term unemployment in 1985; 1.3 percent in 1994; 1.3 percent in 2003; and today, 2.6 percent of long-term unemployment.

    We are in a new situation. These could be structural market changes which are making it harder and harder for some people to find employment, even after searching desperately, and that is exactly who this program is designed to help. The State program, the initial 26 weeks, covers people who lose their job and then relatively quickly-- relatively quickly--can find other employment. This program is the one that is designed for those people who, for many reasons, are having difficulty finding a job over many weeks and months. Today we are at twice the level we have ever been when we considered cutting off these benefits. Actually, we have cut off these benefits. It was December 28.

    For that reason alone, this issue of extended benefits has to be addressed first, I would argue, on an emergency basis. Then let's think long and hard about longer term efforts to address the problem. Many of my colleagues have suggested issues with respect to job training, with respect to incentives for education, and all of them are worthy, but they can't be done in the context of dueling proposals on the floor. They have to be done thoughtfully. If we can quickly adopt the Reed- Heller bill, it will give these long-term unemployed--this record number of long-term unemployed who have been cut off from benefits--it will give them help and give us time.

    We have heard from countless citizens all across the country, and they come from all walks of life and from every aspect of unemployment. The other day, Senator Klobuchar released a report from the Joint Economic Committee which was extremely well done and which described in detail the recipients. There is no one age group. It spans the gamut. There is no one ethnic concentration. There are some geographic areas that are doing quite well, but there are areas that are doing quite badly that are scattered across the country. Rhode Island and Nevada are, unfortunately, leading the list of states with high unemployment. They are very dissimilar States, thousands of miles apart, different economies entirely, but they are caught up in this same problem of unemployment and particularly long-term unemployment.

    The people who are unemployed are not sitting around passively. They are out looking every day. In Rhode Island I have met people who have worked for 30 years. They are in their fifties. They had good jobs. They were bookkeepers. They were white-collar professionals. They are trying to take care of an elderly parent, they have responsibilities to children, and they desperately want to work.

    One constituent who wrote to my office has been out of work since December of 2012. He has applied to over 300 jobs. He has taken additional classes at our local community college in the hopes of becoming a more attractive candidate for employment. Yet he remains out of work.

    Another constituent who has lost her benefits doesn't have enough money to pay her bills and they have to move in with a sister because she can't pay the rent.

    That is what is happening. This is not some academic exercise, some rhetorical ideological debate. This is about helping real people who want to work and they can't find a job after desperately looking for one.

    A third constituent wrote me the following letter: I never thought that I would be among the unemployed, but here I am after over 30 years of experience in my field in higher education administration. I used to make 60K a year and now my unemployment benefits run out in mid March. I have been searching for a job not only in my field, but also doing anything possible using my transferable skills. I have not received an invitation for any interviews at all. . . . So to those who say that extending benefits causes people to stay unemployed longer--they are wrong. When you lose your job, you would do anything to gain employment and regain your dignity. No one wants to subsist on unemployment compensation. Please keep up the fight for extended benefits. It has been a lifeline for me.

    Thirty years of experience, retraining already undertaken, searching relentlessly for a job. An important point here, too, is it is about the economics, but it is also about an individual's dignity and their identity. I don't care who you are. A job helps define who you are. It gives one a sense of esteem and accomplishment, whether one is mopping floors or directing the operations of the hugest national corporation. For my colleagues to suggest somehow, well, yes, if someone is a CEO of a company, that is very valuable work and that gives them self-esteem, they miss the point. A job well [[Page S90]] done, whether it is cleaning floors or merging companies, gives the kind of satisfaction and the kind of self-respect that is critical. So this is about money, yes, but it is also about giving people the opportunity as Americans to live out their full potential, to contribute to their family and to the economy.

    There are 1.3 million Americans and more each day who are facing this same dilemma, and that is why Congress needs to create jobs today and help Americans compete for the jobs of tomorrow. It means taking a multifaceted approach with things such as restoring our manufacturing might by focusing on advanced technologies, ensuring local businesses have access to the capital they need to grow and expand, improving our schools and workforce training programs to ensure we have a highly educated and skilled workforce, and investing in our infrastructure. All of these things have to be done, but it is going to be very difficult to do them in the context of this legislation. That is why again I urge, let us move this bill forward. Let us help these people who are struggling and working very hard and then let us put ourselves on a very fast track to deal with these issues--manufacturing renaissance, job training.

    We have not reauthorized the Workforce Investment Act since 1998. That is the basic sort of education program for those adults and for people looking to move into the workforce, and the world has changed a lot since 1998. That is the result of some indifference. I would ask why in 1998, with a Republican Congress, and in the last few years of the Clinton administration, from 2000 to 2006, a Republican President, a Republican Congress, we couldn't do those things. It is not a time to assess blame, but it is a time to point out the situation that if we want to get these issues done, let us start moving, but let us not leave these unemployed Americans behind indefinitely without hope.

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