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Public Statements

Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Madam President, I rise today to join my colleagues in calling on the Senate to pass an extension of emergency unemployment insurance. I am deeply disappointed and frustrated that millions of hard-working Americans are now wondering how they will put food on their family's table and a roof over their heads because Washington has been unable to extend critical unemployment insurance.

A few weeks ago we had a bipartisan vote to move forward with debate on the extension of what is called emergency unemployment compensation. I hope we can build on that vote and move forward as quickly as possible to restore this vital lifeline before more Americans who have worked hard and followed the rules their entire lives slip from middle class into poverty.

The expiration of emergency unemployment insurance is an urgent problem for tens of thousands of Minnesotans and for millions of Americans. At the end of this past year, unemployment insurance expired for 1.3 million Americans, including 8,500 Minnesotans. If we don't renew that unemployment insurance over the next year, this lifeline will run out for another 3.6 million Americans, including 65,500 Minnesotans. These are real people. These are fathers and mothers. They are people whose families and local communities are struggling.

As I have traveled around Minnesota, I have had the chance to speak with many of the Minnesotans who are affected by the expiration of unemployment insurance. It is not the fault of these people or these workers who have lost their jobs.

Very often, these workers were just unlucky enough to be working in the wrong sector of the economy at the wrong time. Sometimes they were from communities that lost a large employer.

A few weeks ago I held a roundtable with unemployed workers who have been helped by unemployment insurance. These are long-term unemployed. There were also some workforce professionals who are helping these folks and others find jobs in today's recovering economy. The unemployed women I spoke with--Ann, Amy, and Robin--had been working and paying taxes for unemployment insurance for decades. One of them is in her forties, a mom with two kids, one a 3-year-old. The other two women are older workers, one in her fifties, the other in her early sixties. The one in her fifties was a meeting planner. When the recession hit, businesses cut costs by holding fewer meetings, and she couldn't find a job in her field but is trying to find a job in any field. These women had all been skilling up, getting the skills they could to try to get an office job and be more conversant in Excel or some computer program.

All the Minnesotans I have spoken with have been working hard to find jobs, but they face a tough situation in our economy. In November the Labor Department reported that for every job opening there are almost three people seeking jobs. That doesn't mean you will get a job if you apply for three jobs. A few weeks ago a job counselor in Minnesota told me that there are often hundreds of applicants for every good job posting and that these jobs are often filled internally. I am glad businesses are hiring from within or promoting from within, but it is stories such as these that highlight why we need emergency unemployment--to help those workers who were working in a sector that has experienced a major downturn or live in a community where it is particularly hard to find a job and particularly if they are of a certain age.

One of the women I met at the roundtable, Ann from Eden Prairie, had also written me. What she told me really illustrates the situation so many Minnesotans are facing. Ann wrote:

I have been extremely active in my job search, but have regrettably not found new employment. My Minnesota Unemployment Insurance ran out last week and I applied for Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation just this past week ..... I ask you to please ask yourself what you would do to provide for your family. I have a 9 year old daughter ..... and a 3 year old son. I am the sole provider for my family ..... I am not looking for a handout, nor do I believe that staying on unemployment insurance is in my best interest. But the $483 a week it provides will at least allow me to make my mortgage payment.

Ann is remarkably articulate. She volunteers at her son's school, partly because she wants to be involved in her son's life but also to network. One of the counselors there said: The hardest job there is is looking for a job.

Minnesotans such as Ann and the millions of Americans around the country in the same situation have worked for decades. Every one of these women had worked and been paying into unemployment insurance for decades. They don't deserve to be punished or to lose their homes because they are unable to find a job within 26 weeks. Often, they need unemployment insurance so they can put gas in the car to look for a job or so they can keep their phone.

The economy is recovering, but things are still tough for many people. Now is not the time to cut off unemployment insurance. Not only is unemployment still above average, but the long-term unemployed--workers who have been looking for work for at least 6 months--make up 37 percent of today's unemployed. Congress has never allowed extended unemployment insurance to expire when the long-term unemployment rate is as high as it is today. Today the 2.5-percent long-term unemployment rate is nearly double the level it was when previous emergency benefits were allowed to expire, and the current unemployment rate of 6.7 percent is 1.1 percentage points higher than when George W. Bush signed the current round of emergency unemployment compensation into law.

We know the unemployment crisis is not over. It remains a significant issue for workers, especially older workers, who experience longer periods of unemployment than younger workers when they lose their jobs.

Extending unemployment insurance also makes economic sense. In 2011 the Congressional Budget Office stated that aid to the unemployed is among the policies with ``the largest effects on output and employment per dollar of budgetary costs.'' CBO estimates that extending benefits through 2014 would help expand the economy and contribute to the creation of an additional 200,000 jobs. The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that without a full-year extension, the economy will generate 240,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2014.

Unemployment insurance has been shown to help people stay in the workforce, allowing them to contribute to our economic recovery rather than slip into poverty. The Census Bureau estimates that unemployment benefits have kept 2.5 million people who are trying to stay in the workforce out of poverty in 2012 alone and have kept 11 million unemployed workers out of poverty since 2008.

Extending unemployment insurance for those who need it is far from the only thing we should be doing to help people get back to work. I have spoken many times about one of my highest priorities in this area--addressing the skills gap by supporting workforce training partnerships between businesses and community and technical colleges. There are other things we should be doing, such as rebuilding our infrastructure. But it would be a tremendous mistake to fail to renew the unemployment insurance that has lapsed.

People such as Ann and Robin and all those I meet around the State of Minnesota, and the millions of others around the country, when they are looking really hard for work, are spending hours a day looking for work, almost 24 hours a day because they keep their phones on. They are thinking about it constantly. Let's not pull the rug out from under them now. They are trying to catch up in an economy that is recovering but still has a long way to go. We shouldn't be jeopardizing their families' economic security and we shouldn't be jeopardizing our Nation's economic recovery with a shortsighted decision like letting this critical safety net expire.

Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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