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Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, I would like to engage my colleague, the Senator from Iowa, in a colloquy.

I would first like to take this opportunity to commend Senator Harkin, Senators Inouye and Cochran and the rest of the Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for crafting a responsible, commonsense and critical supplemental appropriations bill to allow New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other impacted areas recover from the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy.

I would like to highlight an important aspect of the recovery effort, and that is addressing the employment and workforce crisis following the storm that has exacerbated the already chronically high unemployment rates in many of the impacted areas in New York and beyond.

The human, infrastructure, and economic devastation that Superstorm Sandy inflicted upon New York has been crippling and only comparable most recently to the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks. While it will be months before the economic impact of Sandy can be fully assessed, particularly as it relates to the dislocation of workers, initial figures clearly indicate a long economic recovery for businesses and employees, particularly given that the most densely populated region of the United States was at the center of the storm. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that four of the five counties with the highest number of labor force participants per square mile were among those hardest hit by Sandy. In addition, all 26 of the counties designated as major disaster areas are among the top 10 percent of U.S. counties in terms of labor force density, highlighting the sheer number of workers impacted by Sandy.

Preliminary estimates are that Sandy destroyed 265,000 businesses in New York State and 189,000 businesses in New Jersey, the two hardest hit States. To put these figures in perspective, it is estimated that 18,700 businesses were impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The estimated 265,000 New York businesses impacted employed approximately 3.8 million workers with over $264 billion in annual wages. It is also worth noting that preliminary estimates point to the fact that 90 percent of the impacted firms are small businesses. Worth noting is also the surge in applications for jobless benefits increasing by 78,000 to 439,000 in the week of November 10, the highest since April 2011, mostly because a large number of applications were filed in States damaged by the storm. Given these staggering numbers, we can only assume that the recovery efforts of our impacted businesses and displaced workers will be long and difficult, demanding investment in government programs that can effectively help get businesses back on their feet and put people back to work.

While all levels of government have been very responsive in addressing the immediate emergency needs, it is essential to understand the lessons of previous catastrophic events when designing and implementing appropriate, long-term strategies for the impacted region's recovery. In particular, business closures and layoffs resulting from the storm's devastation could prolong the economic distress Sandy has caused without a dynamic, immediate, and comprehensive workforce initiative to head off these impacts.

It is well recognized that small- and medium-sized business are the backbone of our economy, employing half of private sector workers and accounting for the creation of two out of three new jobs in the United States. Immediate support and stabilization is critical to full recovery of small businesses, which, as noted, make up about 90 percent of the 265,000 estimated New York firms impacted by Sandy. Business continuation, including keeping the doors open while loans, insurance payments and other incentives are realized, is essential. One Federal investment worthy of consideration is temporary employment support, which will help maintain both business operations and help prevent the loss of jobs through the recovery, reducing the need for unemployment and other Federal benefits.

In addition to Federal investment in workforce retention programs, rapid response in identifying and servicing impacted businesses and unemployed workers is required. As recovery efforts move forward, Federal, State, and local authorities should look for ways to invest in and partner with the extensive networks of community-based organizations, economic development groups, as well as organized labor and affiliated management to deliver workforce development services, including outreach for job opportunities, job training, and placement for in-demand occupations and other related reemployment activities.

For example, the Consortium for Worker Education, CWE, a nonprofit agency specializing in workforce preparation, industry specific training, and employment services has partnered in the past with all levels of government and other community based organizations to deliver job placement services and temporary employment support programs to ensure worker retention in the aftermath of disasters. Their efforts alone have helped train and put back to work thousands of people during similar workforce crisis situations as New York finds itself in now following Sandy.

By investing in innovative programs like CWE's, workforce recovery efforts will more effectively take into account the unique needs of each impacted area and deliver tailored services to impacted businesses and displaced workers alike.


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