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Public Statements

Unemployment Insurance

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Madam President, I join with Senator Mikulski from Maryland and her comments about extending unemployment benefits.

We all know these numbers. In my State, 47,000 Ohioans lost their unemployment benefits. At the end of June, that number increased dramatically to more than 90,000. If we don't pass the extension today, or this week, at the end of July more than 80,000 additional Ohioans will lose their benefits. These numbers are incredible. I think it is important to put a human face on these numbers, in large part because 41 Members of the Senate, overwhelmingly Republicans and one Democrat, have consistently voted to filibuster, to block extending unemployment insurance.

I guess the reason for that is they think of these as numbers. They don't think of these as people because I cannot imagine, when they call their names out in the well and they respond and say no over and over and over, as has happened over the last 7 weeks--it is just an amazing thing to me. I think my colleagues who vote no, the 39 or 40 Republicans who vote no, must see this unemployment insurance as welfare. I know some of them think that. But it is insurance. We don't call it unemployment welfare, we call it unemployment insurance.

That means they pay in when they are working, and they get help when they are not. That is done to help individual people, of course. It matters to the community because the dollars they get in their pockets, the $300, $320, roughly, that people get a week on average in unemployment insurance are spending it at the local drugstore. They are spending it at a local grocery store. They are buying clothes for their kids. They are paying rent, paying utilities. They serve as an economic stimulus. It is not just helping those individuals, it is an economic stimulus, as Senator McCain's top aide and his top economic adviser in his Presidential campaign said. This is the best kind of stimulus for the economy. Put a dollar in somebody's pocket for unemployment insurance and they spend it, and it is spent over and over in the community.

President Obama said yesterday that there has been a tradition under both Democratic and Republican Presidents to offer emergency relief to the unemployed. When the economy is bad, that is when we need to do this. For the Republicans to say we need to cut other programs to pay for this--they never said that when we were spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They didn't say pay for that; they said charge that to our grandchildren.

They didn't say pay for it when it was a bailout to the drug and insurance companies in the name of Medicare privatization; they said just bill that to our grandchildren.

When it was tax cuts for the rich--and some of our Republican Senate colleagues said it again this last week--we don't pay for tax cuts for the rich; we just add it to our children's and our grandchildren's credit cards and their tax burden in the future. But when it comes to workers, they look at it differently. Tax cuts for the rich, a bailout for the drug and insurance companies, spending it on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is OK. But it is not OK to spend it on unemployed workers.

So I just am not sure my colleagues ever put a human face on this. They just see these as numbers. I don't know how many of my colleagues sit down and listen to unemployed workers who have lost their jobs.

* * *
Then she lost her health insurance and had to explain to her children that: We are going to have to move because we are going to have our house foreclosed on; we cannot afford the mortgage. They are going to switch school districts, with all of the uncertainties. Can you imagine that--sitting down with your children and doing that? It is happening all too often that people are explaining to their children that they are going to have to move, they are not going to have their own room anymore and they will not go to the same school, and they will not be able to buy the tennis shoes they thought they would get. All those kinds of discussions are happening all over America, in part because people are losing their unemployment insurance.

I will share four brief letters with my colleagues. This is trying to help people understand that real people are losing their unemployment benefits. It is a real hardship.

First is Jillian from Holmes County in Millersburg, OH, one of the smallest, least populous counties. She wrote:

My husband is one of the 83,000 Ohioans who lost unemployment benefits in June. He was working in the same job for 14 years until he was recently laid off. Our family has struggled to keep the bills paid. Our mortgage has been consistently one month behind. And each month, more late fees are tacked on. Now that his unemployment benefits have expired, our utility bills are now one month behind. Please help to get this extension passed.

This is exactly what I hear from constituent after constituent in Ohio. They work hard. Many have worked the same jobs for years, and many have been in the same line of work for 10 to 20 years. These are not lazy people who don't want to work. They lost their jobs through no doing of their own. They have nowhere to turn, and their unemployment benefits have run out.

I ask my colleagues--today we have another chance to vote to join us in helping Jillian and others.

Larry is from Shelby County, another rural county close to the Indiana border, a town called Sidney, the county seat. He wrote:

The lack of movement on extending unemployment benefits is causing major system devastation to workers unable to find employment. Loss of these benefits has become devastating to me and my family. The extreme added emotional and financial stress has exacerbated an otherwise manageable physical condition into a borderline disability. I do not want to lose my capacity to search for and secure employment due to physical stress brought on by economic hardship. Please fight to extend these critical benefits.

So often, what my Republican colleagues seem to think is that people don't have to go out and look for work, but they are out looking for work. These people are not staying home not trying to find a job. To receive unemployment benefits, you have to demonstrate to the local employment office that you are looking for a job.

With all of the economic hardships and the troubles and potential loss of car, house, job, and potentially insurance, there is also an emotional toll taken on people. Larry illustrates that.

Richard is from Summit County, the Akron area. He wrote:

I am a 67-year-old American who has worked for more than 50 years of my life. I got laid off last year and had been receiving unemployment benefits since then. I was thankful for it because it helped me make my house payments. But when I got cut off last month, I went into panic mode. My blood pressure shot up and I ended up in the ER. I have never felt so scared and uncertain of the future as I am now. I didn't plan to stop working. It just happened. I am headed to the welfare office today.

I just hate what this country has become where Senators can't relate to us common folk. Is there any hope for us?

The answer is yes. With the appointment of a new Senator from West Virginia, we will likely have the 60th vote. We have 39 Republicans and 1 Democrat who have voted consistently to allow us to filibuster. A majority of us, 59, have voted--the Presiding Officer and I and 57 others have consistently voted to extend unemployment benefits. Yet, because of a minority of 41, they have been able to stop the debate and this bill from moving forward. Look at the stress it has caused Richard and the anguish it has caused Larry from Shelby County. Look at what Jillian and her husband are facing.

Here is the last letter. This is from Joan from Montgomery County, which is Dayton:

I am an unemployment accountant with a college degree. I was laid off last year when my small law firm merged with a larger one. There was no position for me in the new firm. I decided to go back to school, using up much of my retirement and my husband's savings. I reduced my hours at school and went part-time. I was able to collect unemployment benefits, but since it has run out, my savings are dwindling rapidly.

Given the high level of unemployment in Ohio, extending federal unemployment benefits is imperative. We can't afford further delay. Two weeks is a long time for someone whose only means of support is unemployment benefits. I hope the Senate passes an extension in the next few days.

As I said to her, we hope we will do that today, and the President will sign it quickly and the benefits will go out. I hope more than a couple of Republicans will join us so we can pass this with a significant vote. Some of these are people who have gone back to college, and they work hard. They are people who have been in the workplace for 10, 20, 30 years. They have a good work ethic.

Again, Joan is from Montgomery County--a county that has been hit especially hard, as DHL shut down there and the GM plant shut down, and National Cash Register up and moved to Atlanta. There have been some good things happening but not enough. That is why we need to extend these benefits today, get this done so we can focus on job creation and help people get back to work.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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