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Public Statements

Letter to Majority Leader Reid, Republican Leader McConnell, Chairman Baucus, and Ranking Member Hatch - Urge Reauthorization of Unemployment Insurance

In an effort to prevent more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers from losing their unemployment insurance at the end of December -- and millions more from having no benefits after their initial 26 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) are exhausted during the course of 2014 -- Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a group of 31 U.S. Senators, led by Jack Reed (D-R.I.), today sent a letter urging Congress to preserve federal unemployment insurance for another year.

With just 23 days before federal UI benefits are set to expire, the Senators wrote: "We are writing to urge the continuation of federal support for unemployment insurance, a critical component of our ongoing recovery and a lifeline to millions of Americans as they search for work in this challenging economy. As it stands now, a few days after the holiday season ends, unemployment insurance will abruptly terminate, cutting off support for 1.3 million Americans."

The unemployment insurance system is a partnership between the federal government and state governments that provides a temporary weekly benefit to qualified workers who lose their job and are seeking work. The amount of that benefit is based in part on a worker's past earnings. In Rhode Island, the average weekly UI benefit amount is $354 and the Ocean State is among 43 states that offer 26 weeks of UI coverage, while 7 states offer fewer weeks.

The extended federal UI program was signed into law in June 2008 by President George W. Bush, when the national unemployment rate was 5.6% and the average duration of jobless insurance was 17.1 weeks. It has been reauthorized by Congress a number of times since as America seeks to emerge from the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression. Today, the national unemployment rate is 7% and the average duration of UI benefits is 36.1 weeks, which is much longer than the 26 weeks of unemployment coverage that most states provide.

According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the long-term unemployment rate is falling, but it's still at 2.6%, which is twice as high as in any prior month when extended UI benefits were allowed to expire. CBPP economists note that in each of the previous three recessions, federal unemployment assistance didn't end until the long-term unemployment rate had dropped to around 1.3%.

A new study by the Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the failure to renew UI could cost our economy 240,000 jobs in 2014, including 1,284 in Rhode Island.

Over the years, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found that preserving UI benefits during periods of historically high unemployment is among the most cost-effective programs for reducing joblessness and stimulating the economy. Earlier this week CBO reported: "Extending emergency unemployment benefits would raise gross domestic product (GDP) and employment in 2014 relative to what would occur under current law. Recipients of the additional benefits would increase their spending on consumer goods and services. That increase in aggregate demand would encourage businesses to boost production and hire more workers than they otherwise would, particularly given the expected slack in the capital and labor markets."

Text of the letter follows:

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Republican Leader McConnell, Chairman Baucus, and Ranking Member Hatch:

We are writing to urge the continuation of federal support for unemployment insurance, a critical component of our ongoing recovery and a lifeline to millions of Americans as they search for work in this challenging economy. As it stands now, a few days after the holiday season ends, unemployment insurance will abruptly terminate, cutting off support for 1.3 million Americans.

Despite the tremendous uncertainty caused by the brinksmanship over funding the government and near-default, the economy has had 45 straight months of private sector job growth and created a total of 8.1 million jobs over that period. However, we are still far from regaining the ground lost during the Great Recession. The national unemployment rate has hovered around and over 7 percent and 10.9 million Americans are out of work and looking for a job. Unemployed workers continue to face a daunting labor market, where for every one job opening, there are approximately 3 unemployed workers. That's why it's imperative that we pass legislation that will get Americans back to work and that we don't let unemployment insurance terminate at the end of the year.

Federal support for unemployment insurance has been a major boon to millions of Americans that have been laid off through no fault of their own. Since July 2008 unemployment insurance has provided over $255 billion in direct support. Over that period of time, we have made significant reforms, like those that avert layoffs and help people find work faster. Our constituents and the economy still need the support; the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the expiration of unemployment insurance will cost the economy 310,000 jobs and slow growth by 0.2 percent over the course of next year.

Continuation of unemployment insurance has traditionally passed on a bipartisan basis because of the tremendous support it provides to the unemployed, their families, and the economy. We urge you to ensure that unemployment insurance is continued before its expiration at the end of the year.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Chris Coons (D-DE)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Cory Booker (D-NJ)


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