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Public Statements

Penalizing Unemployed Americans

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BUTTERFIELD. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my concern that Republicans are attempting to penalize unemployed American citizens who do not have a high school diploma. Last month, House Republicans included a provision in the payroll tax cut bill, which is presently in conference, to establish an educational requirement for recipients of benefits.

The provision, Mr. Speaker, would require recipients of unemployment benefits to have at least a high school diploma or a GED or be enrolled in classes to obtain such a degree. This requirement, Mr. Speaker, would affect an estimated 248,000 workers in the first 3 months of enactment, and disproportionately affect older workers, forcing certain unemployment recipients to either enroll in adult education programs or forego the benefits they need to support their families. This is a disgrace.

In 2010, half a million workers age 50 or over who received unemployment insurance lacked a high school diploma. For most of these individuals who have worked more than 30 long years, returning to high school makes very little sense. They are the bricklayers and the carpenters and sanitation workers and housekeepers in our communities.

In the case of workers under the age of 50, adult education might be useful, but is largely unattainable. Currently, State and local adult education programs do not have the capacity--we know that--do not have the capacity to meet this demand. Waiting lists for these programs are proliferating and certain to worsen due to a 20 percent decline over the past decade in Federal funding for adult education programs and $1 billion in cuts to job-training programs in fiscal year 2011.

Creating an educational mandate as a condition of eligibility to receive unemployment insurance benefits, Mr. Speaker, is punitive. It's misguided. It's egregious, even by current Republican standards.

While there are certainly benefits to receiving at least a high school education, establishing a blanket policy that denies unemployment benefits to low-skill workers who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own, without ensuring they have unrestricted access to educational opportunities, sets up hundreds of thousands of Americans to fail.

It seems incredibly cynical to require participation in adult education and job training as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits while simultaneously eliminating meaningful Federal support for these programs.

Mr. Speaker, it is unconscionable to put additional strings on this crucial relief that do nothing, nothing to address the real causes of the current unemployment crisis. It is a difficult time to be unemployed in America. It is a difficult time to be unemployed in America, but House Republicans seem determined to make it even more difficult.

I urge my colleagues to join me and stand up against this education mandate and fight for policies that can actually help bring the unemployment crisis to resolve.

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