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Maxine W.
Democrat CA 43

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  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus

    by Representative Maxine Waters

    Posted on 2014-01-09

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    WATERS. I would certainly like to thank the gentleman from Wisconsin, Representative Mark Pocan, for yielding to me, and I congratulate him for organizing this Congressional Progressive Caucus Special Order on unemployment insurance.

    Fifty years ago this weekend, in his the State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. He introduced Federal legislation, even proposed State initiatives that would over time improve health, education, nutrition, and access to housing, employment, and economic opportunity.

    Although America has changed a great deal since that day, poverty and economic inequality are still at the forefront of our Nation's problems. They are only exacerbated by the Great Recession. The gap between the rich and poor in America has become a chasm. Today, 20 percent of the income in our country goes to the top 1 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent holds about 40 percent of the country's wealth. This inequality is mirrored in our communities, our housing and rental markets, and our financial system, where a lack of access to banking services often causes working families to have debts that spiral out of control.

    Mr. Speaker, inequality in this country has reached a point that for many, the American Dream of upward mobility and unlimited economic opportunity has been greatly diminished.

    The 2008 financial crisis cost our economy $12 trillion, as millions lost their homes and jobs. This destruction of wealth disproportionately hurt our Nation's most vulnerable and only widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Even the gains from growth during the recent recovery have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest people in society.

    Almost 95 percent of the income gains since the recovery began have been captured by the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, the minimum wage has not been increased since 2009. Mr. Speaker, this is totally unacceptable. Chronic unemployment and poverty still plague many of our communities. American families are still struggling to make ends meet. Four million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or [[Page H121]] more, and the economy still has 1 million fewer jobs than before the Great Recession began.

    {time} 1800 Those there are other factors at play. Much of this inequality is a result of some of the government policies that we make, and government policy can help reverse these alarming trends.

    But instead, our friends on the opposite side of the aisle are digging us deeper and deeper into this crisis. They passed the farm bill that cuts SNAP nutrition program for low-income families by $40 billion, and then the Republicans let unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployment expire 3 days after Christmas.

    Already, 1.3 million unemployed Americans have lost their Federal unemployment insurance. That includes 20,000 military veterans. Each day this program sits expired, thousands of additional struggling Americans are adversely affected.

    As State benefits are exhausted in the first 6 months of 2014, an additional 1.9 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance. In fact, every week another 72,000 job-seekers will lose their benefits during the first half of this year.

    Mr. Speaker, unemployment insurance is critical to struggling families. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, unemployment insurance kept 2.5 million people above the poverty line in 2012, including 600,000 children.

    Unemployment insurance is good for the economy. According to Moody's Analytics, every dollar of unemployment insurance generates $1.55 in new economic activity in the first year. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 200,000 jobs could be lost in our economy if unemployment insurance is not extended.

    We must act and act immediately to extend unemployment insurance. So I call on my Republican colleagues to bring the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, that is H.R. 3824, to the House floor and pass it now.

    With one in five American children living in poverty, it is clear that the war on poverty has gone on for far too long. Let's take action now to have all Americans share in our Nation's growth and prosperity. Let's bring an unemployment extension bill to the floor, and let's bring it now. Let's bring a substantive jobs bill to the floor now, and let's bring a minimum wage increase to the floor now. American families have suffered enough. It is time to restore the American Dream.

    As I wrap up, let me just say this on behalf of the American people. I hear these arguments every day from the opposite side of the aisle saying if you can continue to extend these unemployment benefits, you are simply going to undermine the will for people to go to work. What you are going to do is make them comfortable on these unemployment benefits, and they won't go look for a job.

    Well, I want to tell you I have not talked to everyone whose on unemployment or who needs extended benefits; but I can tell you this, American folks want jobs, they want to work, they want to earn a decent living, they want to earn wages to take care of their families and their children. Their aspirations and their goals are the same as yours and mine. They want what America has promised.

    I would say to those who would continue this argument, don't disrespect the American people that way. Don't undermine the American people that way. Do what you know is right, what makes good sense, and let us help out those who are the most vulnerable, who need us now at this time so that they can continue to look for jobs, so that they continue to aspire to have the American Dream, and I thank you very much.

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