With the Bush economy driving unemployment rates to a five-year high of 6.1% and the number of unemployed Americans now reaching 9.4 million, several leading U.S. senators today joined together in introducing legislation to extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits so people can pay their bills while they look for work. In 1991 and 2002, Congress worked with the White House to enact similar legislation to extend UI benefits when unemployment rates were high.
The measure, authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), will provide seven weeks of unemployment insurance for individuals who have exhausted their benefits. The bill also provides 13 additional weeks of benefits to unemployed workers in states that have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn and have unemployment rates above 6%. States which would benefit from this provision include: Alaska, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Without this legislation, hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to run out of their current extended benefits in October and 1.1 million are estimated to run out by the end of the year.
"The Bush Administration's poor stewardship of the economy has contributed to a spike in unemployment, skyrocketing gas prices, and rising inflation. And yet there has been very little help for working families," said Reed. "When parents are out of work for long periods of time, it has a severe financial impact on families and their communities. In Rhode Island, approximately 200 individuals actively looking for work exhaust their unemployment benefits each week and they need help putting food on the table and keeping their utilities turned on. This critical legislation would throw a lifeline to 3,000 Rhode Islanders and hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country."
The bill also includes a provision to help qualifying states like Rhode Island replenish their unemployment insurance trust funds (UTF), which help pay a cover a portion of UI benefits. Rhode Island's unemployment fund has been depleted by the sharp increase in the state's unemployment rate, which is currently the third highest in the nation at 7.7%.
"As our economy continues to suffer and unemployment rates continue to climb, we must ensure American workers have access to the support they need just to get by," said Senator Obama. "By the end of this year, more than a million workers will have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and that is unacceptable. This Administration has failed to extend these benefits during these tough times, and we cannot wait any longer. We must put the needs of working people first and extend unemployment benefits now. I commend Chairman Kennedy and Senator Reed for their leadership on behalf of America's working families."
"Each day brings more bad news as our economy continues to worsen-which means even tougher times ahead for millions of American families. Senator Kennedy is proud to join fellow Democrats in introducing this urgently-needed legislation to extend unemployment benefits for those hit hardest by job losses. He urges his colleagues to pass it at the earliest opportunity," said Anthony Coley, spokesman for Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
"This bill gets at the core of one of our most pressing domestic issues by providing additional assistance to those Americans who have lost their jobs in this tough economic time; with unemployment figures rising every month Americans need a little extra coverage to pay the bills as they get back on their feet and back to work," said Baucus. "I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to do what's right for America's working families, and move these provisions."
"As the economy continues to deteriorate and unemployment numbers reach new heights, we ought to be doing all that we can for those families most in need," Durbin said. "Extending unemployment benefits is the not only moral thing to do to aid struggling families, but it will also breathe some life into our troubled economy. I hope my colleagues roll up their sleeves and join us in promptly passing this important bill."
"Our economy has endured eight years of the failed economic policies of a Republican administration with a philosophy that simply doesn't work. It is clear that the fundamentals of our economy are not strong," said Stabenow. "Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and from coast to coast, middle-class families are struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet as we face record job loss. This extension of unemployment insurance will not only provide support to families who need it most, but it is one of the fastest, most effective ways to stimulate the economy."
"These are difficult, difficult times for many families. For millions of Americans who are looking for a job today, the challenges seem almost insurmountable," Whitehouse said. "Unemployment insurance is just that - insurance, helping people pay the mortgage or the rent or feed their families as they work to get back on their feet. I commend Senator Reed, my senior senator, for his leadership and hope the Senate will act quickly to pass this bill."
A similar measure, H.R. 6867 has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.