12/17/2013 — 

Mr. REED. I come again to the floor to remind my colleagues that in 11 days 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance. With the goal of providing certainty to these families that they will continue to have access to this vital lifeline, I and my colleague from Nevada, Senator Heller, are introducing a bill that would extend unemployment insurance compensation benefits for 3 months.

I hope this sensible and bipartisan approach will provide a path forward to extending the program through 2014, which will give families and our economy more time to recover.

In many parts of the country, recovery is just getting underway. My own State of Rhode Island has 9.2 percent unemployment. There are States throughout the country that have over 8 percent unemployment. There are some States that are doing well and we are very pleased they are. But for the millions of people who are still looking for work, they need this help.

This program is designed so workers continue to look for work while they receive very modest compensation. In my State the average is about $354 a week. That is not the kind of money that is going to induce someone to simply sit back and collect. It is going to provide some support for them to just put food on the table.

This safety net is not only there for them, it is for everyone, as 23.9 million Americans have received these Federal benefits since the start of the program in 2008. Some, thankfully, have found work and returned to work. But all of them, in a very critical time, received assistance and support. They only qualified for the support because they worked. This is a program that is based on one fundamental principle--they have worked long enough to qualify for these benefits. As a result, I think we have to go ahead, follow through, and not leave 1.3 million people, on December 28, literally with nothing, in many cases.

As we look by household, the number of Americans this program has helped rises to about 69 million people, not only the workers but their families, sons, daughters, and spouses. In fact, it includes about 17 million children who would not have received support without the benefits provided by this program.

In terms of income, over 40 percent of those households new to receiving UI in 2012 had household income between $30,000 and $75,000. That is an important point to make. These are working families. These are people who were enjoying a reasonably good living and suddenly, because of many changes, globalization, downsizing, you name it, they are without a job in a very difficult job market.

They went from people with good, solid, middle-class jobs to desperately looking for work. At least this program gave them some support as they made that great effort to look for work.

This program has been and continues to be a crucial benefit to millions of American households all over the country and of nearly every conceivable demographic background. That is why it is such a significant part of our recovery too. Its expiration will hurt families.

It has been estimated that if we do not extend this program over the next year, we will lose 200,000 jobs. And the logic of this program is very compelling. People who receive these benefits, people who used to make $50,000 a year, for example--and many of them did--they are not going to go ahead, turn around, take these benefits and just sort of squirrel them away or go off on a vacation. This is about paying the rent and paying for fuel in a cold winter or a hot summer in the South and Southwest.

It is about making sure their children get a little something. Again, about 17 million children have benefited over the last several years--since 2008--from this program.

This is absolutely critical. It is critical to our economy. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the economically smart thing to do. It has been estimated that without the extension of unemployment insurance, we will lose .2 percent of GDP growth this year, and this is at a time when we all very sincerely profess that our No. 1 job is jobs--getting people back to work and growing the economy. And if we grow the economy, that has many beneficial effects. Not only does it lower the number of people who need this type of assistance, but as a result of that and other activities, it begins to lower our deficit.

For so many reasons, both economic and central to our purpose as a government--which is when people who have worked hard run into a situation where they lose their employment through no fault of their own, this is something that is there for them, and I hope we can move forward on it.

I am so pleased Senator Heller has stepped up and has joined me, and I will join him, in urging all my colleagues to give us the opportunity not only to bring this legislation up but for at least 3 months to extend it so we can look longer term. Some of my colleagues have raised some very interesting points about how perhaps there are reforms necessary for the program. Well, in the context of a program that expires on December 28, it is hard to take the legislative time and insight to develop reforms that will work for everyone. But if we can extend this for at least 3 months, we will have that opportunity.

Mr. President, again, I will return. This is not the last time I will speak on this point. But I did want to come back and remind people that this program is central to so many families. It is an important part of continuing our economic expansion, and it is particularly difficult at this time of year when 1.3 million Americans in this holiday season are facing a cutoff of benefits that to many of them are the difference between paying the rent, paying the mortgage, and keeping the kids in their sports programs or doing those things families in America need to do.