Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the American people are facing difficult economic times. The unemployment rate is at a 9-year high, and a growing number of both skilled and unskilled American workers are left without jobs and without a way to provide for themselves and their families.
I am so pleased that we finally passed S. 23 on Tuesday, which provides a 5-month extension of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2002, and that the House passed it also. I believe that it was critical for the Congress to address the issue or expiring unemployment insurance benefits on the very first day of the 108th Congress. Actually, if we had had it our way, my Democratic colleagues and I would have delivered this aid to unemployed workers last year before 780,000 workers had their benefits cut off. At the end of the last Congress, Democrats asked for unanimous consent eight times to pass a bill that would provide benefits for workers who were cut off from their benefits on December 28, for workers who had not yet received the extension, and for workers who had run out of their State and Federal benefits and had not yet found a new job.
But each time Republicans objected to this proposal. An agreement was finally reached between Senate Democrats and Republicans in December, but the Senate agreement was rejected by House Republicans.
S. 23 will help millions of Americans, 91,000 in Massachusetts alone, but there is one deserving group that it won't help, the more than 1 million unemployed workers who have already exhausted their State and Federal unemployment benefits. On Tuesday, Senator REED asked that the Senate not adjourn until it address the issue of unemployment insurance benefits for workers who have already exhausted their benefits. Unfortunately, I was not present for Tuesday's vote because I was detained at a doctor's appointment, but had I been present I would have voted in favor of continuing the debate until we addressed the needs of the long-term unemployed.
Over 2 million people's benefits have expired since the passage of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Program in March 2001. Of those 2 million, 1 million are still working hard to find jobs. There are 1.5 million fewer jobs today than there were in March 2001 and the economy remains weak. I have heard from so many of my constituents about how difficult it is to find jobs in this economic climate. Twenty percent of
America's unemployed have been without work for more than 26 weeks, and the percentage is still growing. We must not leave the long-term unemployed and their families with no where to turn.
We have taken an important first step to help unemployed workers. But we have not done nearly enough. And I will continue to urge my colleagues to take action to help the long-term unemployed.