A picture of Representative Paul Tonko
Paul T.
Democrat NY 20

About Rep. Paul
  • Equal Opportunity in America

    by Representative Paul Tonko

    Posted on 2014-01-14

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    TONKO. Thank you to the gentleman from California for yielding.

    I want to thank you, Representative Garamendi, for leading us in an hour of very important discussion which highlights the efforts of the Democratic Caucus within the House of Representatives. I, for one, am very proud to serve with a group of leaders, women and men, within that Democratic Caucus who have a vision of where they want to take this Nation, how we can address the inequality, how we can empower our economy by reaching to individuals and families across this Nation with an order of economic justice. That, I think, is the moral compass that guides us in that Caucus. I believe that many of these ills within our economy can be resolved.

    I, with great interest, listened to the opening of this hour of Special Order, where discussion on the economy began with your quoting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As you cited within that quote the contrast between those who have an abundance and those who have little, we know that in that historic time President Roosevelt guided this Nation with a program, and we had reference to his administration being that of a New Deal.

    Today, many of the workers, many working families, women, those who struggle in our economy, are given a bad deal. The bad deal is intolerable. The bad deal needs to be discontinued.

    So we work, in very progressive format, here on the House floor offering a Democratic agenda, making certain that all people are embraced, are brought into an inclusive sort of politics where we engage in the ills of the past and correcting those ills of the past, studying them, understanding where the empowerment is required.

    Certainly, when you look at some of the issues today, there is this greater impact on women in many measurable [[Page H213]] ways. We have the minimum wage issue, with two-thirds of those working in minimum wage being in a category of women.

    So we need to address that minimum wage. America stands behind that concept. They understand that if you work hard and are trying to raise a family, you need to do it with great remuneration, with social and economic justice, again, and the appropriateness of enabling people to have just pay for the work that is done.

    We can address that with a minimum wage agenda here in the House. I believe that those dollars are recirculated into the economy. People earning a minimum wage are going to spend on the basic essentials of life for themselves and for their family members. So it, I believe, is a way to strengthen regional economies, State economies, and this national economy, by being fair to workers and working families.

    There was also talk about the efforts to provide for family leave time, for sick leave, and the worthiness of providing for that and removing of the stress factor within families. It is critical. It is important to quality of life, and it is the right thing, the fair thing to do.

    Also, I find very incredibly important the discussion routinely on this House floor about the extension of emergency unemployment insurance. Well, that is something that has received a lot of attention of late, but the leadership of the House is rigid in not addressing the extension of emergency unemployment insurance.

    Well, let me tell you that that denial of unemployment insurance has impacted women particularly hard, but both women and men, and families in general.

    Let me tell you about two discussions I had this weekend. I gathered with some folks from my district who are communicating with us about the need to have this done. Two individuals--they happen to be women-- Laurie, Lisa, and I, and others, had met, along with a local assembly member, Pat Fahey, from the Albany region of New York. We heard their stories.

    They have been without work for nearly a year. They have been actively pursuing work, sending out resumes, indicating wherever a job is possible that may fit their skill set, and they are not getting the response they require.

    So they have talked about it. We wanted to get a personal saga here, a story. We wanted to relate really well so we could be a stronger voice here on the House floor.

    Both Laurie and Lisa brought to my attention the fact that their children are watching this. They are watching this whole episode, and they can't understand the insensitivity, the callousness, the cold- heartedness. They thought that government would be there at a time when their parents were struggling for work. They want to work. Unemployment insurance means people have paid into that concept. So when you stumble across hard times, somebody will be there to assist you. They are not getting that assistance.

    You look at the discrimination, with many that are calling my office, women and men, who may have been 45, 50, 55 years of age, if not 60- some. They are feeling age discrimination as they go to these interviews. They are being bypassed, they believe, because of their age.

    So the work out there that they require, where three people are chasing every available job, we need in this post-recession to continue to be there on their behalf. We have never not chosen to reauthorize and provide for the unemployment insurance opportunities.

    {time} 1830 In the seven recessions that have followed since 1958, we have always extended that unemployment insurance. Why now? Why now do we say no? We need to be sensitive. We need to understand that many people, a great number of women, require this reauthorization. A number of people are feeling age-discriminated against, and so the right thing to do is to empower these families.

    The dollars come right back into the economy. In fact, it has been stated that for every dollar of unemployment insurance that is paid to individuals out there, $1.52 is realized in the local economy, and so it more than pays for itself.

    And when the theories out there, when the many institutes, the economic policy institutes, measure the impact of not doing this, we understand full well that it sets back the economy. Some 400,000 jobs are lost. $400 million was lost in the early stages of not doing the unemployment insurance reauthorization.

    So there are many ills that come with a lack of action here. There are many ills that need to be undone that have been decades long, generations long in their impact on women, making certain that, as we empower women, as we empower them, we empower families, we empower this Nation.

    There are many things that need to be done, and I, again, am so proud to work with the Caucus that understands it, that gets it, that is trying to be out there speaking the progressive voice of policy reform that will strengthen this economy, grow the economy.

    There is no more important issue today than growing our economy, and we do it by a sense of inclusion. With those inclusive politics, women and men, younger workers just entering the workforce, senior workforce members, everyone is empowered when we do the progressive order of reform that enables us to grow this economy.

    So Representative Garamendi, I am certainly pleased that you are leading us in this discussion on growing the economy, on doing an order of fairness, social and economic justice that speaks to individuals out there, in many cases, the ills that are borne upon women because of a lack of fine tuning to our policy that needs to be addressed. So I am pleased that you are leading us in this discussion here this evening on the House floor so that we can express the contrast, the difference.

    It is not everyone just holding back on progress. There are those who have an agenda that speaks to the common folk, the workers out there, the individuals, the families, the children that are empowered by quality daycare, child care services, that are empowered by a minimum wage increase, empowered by the extension of emergency unemployment insurance, by skills development programs.

    There is a package out there, Making It In America, that has been addressed by this Caucus, by the Democratic Caucus in the House, that will grow the economy and strengthen the future and provide a sense of hope.

    It has been done. We need to replicate history. We saw what happened when we engaged in issues like Social Security, Medicare, workers' rights, standing up for the individuals out there in order to provide for the remuneration that they require and deserve. That is respect, and that is providing hope for America's working families.

    So let's hope we can move forward with a progressive agenda for this Nation's working families.

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