The Congressional Progressive Caucusby Representative Raúl M. Grijalva
Posted on 2014-01-09
GRIJALVA. Congressman, let me at the outset thank you for the
opportunity to provide some clarity to the discussion and the lack of
debate, many times, in this House about what is really important to the
American people. That clarity is important to this whole Congress. It
is important specifically to our Democrats and in particular to the
Progressive Caucus, of which you are a member, and I want to thank you
for that and for your efforts.
The Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expired on the 28th because of a lack of action on the part of the majority--the majority being the Republicans--cutting off an average weekly benefit of $300, as has been stated, to 1.3 million job seekers. Without that extension, another 72,000 Americans on average are estimated to lose their unemployment insurance every week during the first half of this new year.
All economists agree that providing extended unemployment benefits is one of the most effective job creation strategies available during a high period of joblessness. In this period of economic uncertainty, every $1 of unemployment compensation creates 52 cents in additional economic activity beyond that dollar. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending benefits for another year will save 200,000 jobs.
The failure by the Republicans to extend Federal unemployment insurance at the end of last week is already taking more than $400 million out of the pockets of American job seekers nationwide and State economies.
Unemployment insurance is viewed as a very effective stimulus because Americans without jobs tend to spend their unemployment insurance right away and on the very basic needs that they and their families need.
Democrats have called on Congress to extend the Federal emergency unemployment insurance program through 2014. Congress must act soon to restore those necessary benefits to the unemployed workers and to their families.
This economy still has 1 million fewer jobs than before the Great Recession began; 37 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 6 months; almost 1.9 million more would lose their unemployment benefits in the first half of 2014, as their State benefits run out.
[[Page H120]] In my State of Arizona, the failure by the GOP, the Republicans, to reinstate and extend the unemployment compensation benefits directly affected 17,100 unemployed workers in Arizona. An additional 22,500 unemployed workers will lose their benefits in the first 6 months of 2014 if this Congress does not act.
Arizona has an average of an 8.3 percent unemployment rate throughout the State. There has been a 20 percent reduction in unemployment benefits to these workers since 2011. So we stand a chance, in Arizona, to save up to 2,000 jobs and reinstate for 17,000 people their unemployment benefits if this Congress were to act now.
We are here today, with the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Pocan) managing this hour, to talk about the necessity and the urgency of the extension of unemployment benefits that has to be a priority for this Congress.
For those willing workers and their families, it is an essential, essential act by this Congress. These workers should not be pawns in political gamesmanship or in gotcha strategies by the Republicans to try to, in effect, embarrass the President. That does not need to be part of this equation. As Mr. Pocan pointed out, this has been dealt with in a bipartisan manner. This renewal, regardless of who has been in the White House, has been a response to the needs of the American people and their workers. I also believe that people receiving unemployment should not be subjected to punitive, mean-spirited requirements in order to receive that support.
We need action. We don't need posturing. We don't need empty preaching from the majority on extending unemployment benefits. That needs to be done and done immediately.
As we talk about unemployment benefits and their extension, I also want to mention that we have to realize that there is not a subtle or overly covert agenda at work here by the majority. We see the nonaction on unemployment, a vital and necessary response that, in the past, has been met with bipartisan support. We now see cuts amounting to $20 billion in nutrition and basic sustenance support for people in need, the SNAP program in the farm bill. That cumulative effect of $20 billion will affect many, many families, children, and adults throughout this country.
There is also a growing wage and income inequality and disparity in this country. That has been as a consequence of policies in which we reward those that are doing well--and God bless them, and they should do well, and we should be proud of them--we reward them with tax breaks, with loopholes, and with the ability to increase their income and their purchasing power while at the same time shifting the burden of responsibility for basic services in this country to hardworking, middle class people in this country. That income inequality is possibly one of the most dangerous economic realities that is happening to this Nation, and that, too, is an agenda that is going on and continues to go on in the policies and the initiatives that are being promoted by the majority party in this House.
There is a huge need in this country for a livable minimum wage that pays people for the actual work that they do. We can't ignore the sequester cuts and how they have directly affected child care and the ability for parents, and particularly women, to be able to work and have some security that their children are being taken care of. The cuts in that area, in Head Start, in particular, are going to be devastating; early childhood education, the cuts in that area, and the freedom that it would provide parents to be able to feel secure about being at work while their children are learning and being taken care of.
The cuts in job training and the ability for people to seek new careers and change the orientation of where they are working, that has been cut. Public education, an investment strategy that, in hard economic times, has been critical to our country, again, is being cut. Access and affordability of higher education, again, being cut.
There has been no jobs bill. It was interesting to hear the Speaker of the House say the other day that it is the Democrats' fault that there is no jobs agenda that has been presented. There has been a jobs agenda presented over and over again by a variety of colleagues in this House, in the Senate, and by the administration. The inaction and them turning their face to that reality has been a consequence of the leadership in this House that has refused to deal with that.
Unemployment benefits are part of a greater crisis, a crisis of economic fairness in this country, a crisis that demands that this Congress look beyond its own rhetoric and look at the reality.
In my district, every time in our office people come in seeking help from us, and, invariably, the biggest request is, How can I find a job? How can I get trained for a new career? How can I get myself in a situation where I can go back to work and feel secure in taking care of and supporting my family? For single heads of households, it is the same issue.
I would suggest that if we really want to deal with the economics and not just provide rhetoric about jobs that we look at the first necessary step: extend these unemployment benefits, provide some security and some sustainability to millions of workers in this country, and then move on to the real agenda, which is to provide some fairness to these workers and some opportunities to these workers.
Again, Congressman Pocan, I appreciate the time and yield back.