Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Reed Speaks on the Need to Preserve Unemployment Insurance
Mr. REED. Mr. President, first of all, I think it is appropriate to make some comments. I appreciate the Senator from North Dakota being here and making his point. But we are at a juncture that within 2 weeks 1.3 million Americans will lose their Federal unemployment compensation insurance.
It will be a shock to them economically and particularly since it will be just a few days after the Christmas holiday. My legislation is very simple. I am seeking to extend for an additional year the unemployment compensation program that has been in place for several years. That will allow 1.3 million Americans to have some support as they face a very difficult economy.
We have asked, as Democrats, that this UI proposal be part of the budget negotiation. Our colleagues in the House of Representatives have made the same request. It appears that will not be the case. So we have to seek a stand-alone legislative vehicle. That is why I proposed the legislation as I have done today.
What we were trying to do, with the request that was just objected to, and what we have to do within 2 weeks is pass this legislation--so the upcoming expiration does not allow us the time for the procedural process of committee deliberation and markup, et cetera. What we have to do is try to avoid a huge economic shock to 1.3 million Americans immediately. There will be more after that. But as of December 28, if you are on unemployment insurance, Federal unemployment insurance, you lose it.
In my State, that is 4,900 people celebrating New Year's Day by losing their Federal unemployment insurance benefits; for families who are struggling just to keep their heads above water in a very difficult economy--who have seen their jobs disappear, who after years of dedicated work find themselves now looking at very difficult circumstances for employment, in my home State particularly, but not my home State alone--this is a very difficult burden to bear.
So we have to act. That is why we are here this evening, to ask for immediate consideration of my legislation to extend unemployment insurance, not further review, but immediate consideration.
I think it is important to point out that the average weekly benefit is about $300 per week. This is not a program that people are using to enrich themselves by any means. This is basically keeping the heat on, keeping some food on the table, maybe keeping the rent paid. Also, this is a program that people only qualify for after working and establishing a work history.
So for all of these reasons, we are not talking about some lavish benefit that is a windfall to Americans. This is something that can keep families together. That is why I think we have to be willing, beginning this evening, to get this program extended through next year at least.
There is another aspect to this too. Unemployment insurance is one of the best countercyclical economic programs we have when it comes to Federal fiscal policy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that with the expiration of UI, if we do not act, it will cost our economy next year 200,000 jobs. It will cost us jobs if we do not act. It will slow economic growth by about .2 percent is their estimate.
So not only is this sensible, in fact the decent thing to do for millions of families, it is the smart thing to do for our economy. Because if we do not do it, we are literally seeing, under very rational estimates, 200,000 jobs disappear. What is the one thing everybody claims we need to do in this country right now? Put more people back to work.
This extension has been scored at about $26 billion for the year. Traditionally, we have treated unemployment insurance as an emergency expenditure. We have not offset it. That tradition has been abandoned recently and we have had to come up with offsets. But there are offsets. There are tax loopholes that should be closed. There are provisions that encourage companies to move jobs overseas that we can close and pay for this.
There are other provisions that would stop subsidizing significant multimillion dollar corporate benefits so American families can have a chance. These loopholes we have talked about--and many of my colleagues talked about--they should be closed anyway. But if it helps pay for unemployment insurance, that is not only good, that is something that would be a very positive step forward.
We need to extend these benefits not only for the individual families but for the overall economy. We have to start immediately. We are running out of time. We have just 2 weeks. Nothing is more important than getting people back to work. As I said, if we do not do this, we are going to see 200,000 jobs that are going to be forgone in the next year. So this is about jobs, as well as it is about keeping families together and keeping them able to provide for their basic needs.
It is progrowth. It is smart. I hope we can come together and do it. I hope again--I appreciate certainly the objection of the Senator from North Dakota. But I hope we can find a way to not object but to move forward together. The benefits cut across party lines. If you look at the States that are suffering the most--as we all know, the unemployment compensation program is a tiered program. It depends upon the level of unemployment in our States. But if you look at the States that are suffering the most, and unfortunately I am going to have to say Rhode Island is one of them. Nevada has the highest unemployment rate, 9.3. We are right behind them, 9.2 percent.
It has been 5 long years of unacceptable and elevated unemployment. It has come down from above 10 percent, but it is still much too high. But this is not a regional phenomenon. Illinois, 8.9 percent unemployment; Mississippi, 8.5 percent unemployment; Kentucky, 8.4 percent unemployment; North Carolina, 8 percent unemployment; Georgia, 8.1 percent unemployment; Arizona, 8.2 percent unemployment. These are tough numbers. It is not concentrated in one place; it is across this entire country. This is not a red issue or a blue issue. This is an American issue for workers who have worked and now cannot find jobs and need support. There is something else that is important to mention; that is, we have seen some progress on the jobs front. The last report showed we actually grew last month, 203,000 jobs. That is the good news. The bad news is despite this improvement, long-term unemployment remains high.
More than 4 million workers, 37 percent of those unemployed, were jobless for 27 weeks or longer in November. So what we are seeing is some short-term movement, but the longer term unemployment, the ones who qualify for the Federal benefits, they are still finding it virtually--very difficult, if not impossible, to find work.
That is exactly what this Federal program is designed to fix. Those long-term unemployed who are in an environment, in a State where the economy is not working as well as some other States. There are some States that are doing exceptionally well. I am glad for them. But there are more, as I said before, who are experiencing unacceptably high unemployment rates.
This program started to take shape in its most recent incarnation in June 2008, when President George W. Bush signed the program into law. When he did it, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. So we are looking now at a situation that nationally and in many States is much higher than when we initiated this program back in 2008.
Now is not the time to stop, and in order to get this done, we have to move expeditiously. There is not time for elaborate hearings. There is not time for conferences with the House. The House is proposing to leave this Friday. We have to move immediately.
Today, our national unemployment rate is 7 percent. The duration of unemployment is 37.2 weeks. That is 7 percent compared to 5.6 and 37.2 weeks compared to 17.1 weeks. We still need this program to help the families of this Nation. We can't end it now. We have to move forward, particularly during this holiday season.
The reality--and finally to make this point--is that people will be looking at a new year coming with the knowledge that what little benefit they are getting as they search for work--an average of $300 a week--is gone. That is a tough reality, to look at your family on New Year's Day and understand that you don't have those resources.
So we have to act, and I hope we can.
With that, I yield the floor for my colleague and his comments.