February 10, 2012

Gillibrand, Senators Urge Continuation of Unemployment Insurance

Federal Support To Workers Searching For Jobs Should Continue

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined 13 of her Senate colleagues to urge the conference committee negotiating the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act to renew federal unemployment insurance provisions through the end of the year without new barriers to participation or new burdensome requirements for states.

“This assistance is a lifeline for New Yorkers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own so they can continue to make ends meet,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Not only is this assistance critical for families that depend on it, but also has a positive effect on our economy. We need to extend this vital assistance to make sure these families aren’t cut off and left out in the cold.” 

Millions of Americans rely on the federal-state unemployment insurance system to cover their most basic needs while looking for a new job.  The Senators call for a full continuation of the federal provisions while the national unemployment rate remains high.  The Senators also object to proposals that would implement demeaning requirements on those seeking unemployment insurance such as mandatory drug testing. 

Americans on unemployment insurance receive benefits that average $300 dollars a week to pay for basic necessities while they search for a new job. Nearly 13 million people remain unemployed nationwide and approximately four people are looking for work for every job opening in the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that unemployment insurance assistance is among the most effective measures to fight the economic recession. In fact, each dollar invested in unemployment assistance doubles its economic return as families who rely on this assistance spend it immediately on basic necessities.  

Signers of the letter include Senators Merkley (D-OR),  Harkin (D-IA), Akaka (D-HI), Levin (D-MI), Stabenow (D-MI), Wyden (D-OR), Brown (D-OH), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Franken (D-MN), Udall (D-NM), and Menendez (D-NJ). 

The full text of the letter is below: 

Dear Senate Members of the Conference Committee on the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act:  

We write as supporters of our federal-state unemployment insurance system who believe that the federal unemployment insurance provisions should be renewed without new barriers to participation or new burdensome administrative requirements for states.  

The federal-state unemployment insurance system has worked as it was intended during this difficult recession – replacing some of the lost wages of laid-off workers while also supporting local economies deeply affected by the high unemployment rate.  The small amount of benefits provided, which is earned and accumulated through prior work and averages about $300 a week, covers only the most basic of needs.  Yet, this important safety net ensures that some of our most vulnerable citizens are able to stay in their homes and focus on finding new jobs.  

The unemployment insurance system also directly injects cash into hard-hit communities.  The unemployed quickly spend the benefits they receive, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that every $1.00 provided in unemployment benefits generates as much as $1.90 in economic growth.  The labor market is still struggling from the effects of the financial crisis and subsequent recession, and now is not the time for Congress to reduce benefits. 

Additionally, we have serious concerns regarding proposals that would undermine the unemployment insurance system by diverting dollars away from the dedicated unemployment insurance trust funds.  Since its enactment during the Great Depression, the federal-state unemployment insurance system has provided benefits to Americans based only on their work history and commitment to finding a new job.  Benefits should not be predicated on whether an unemployed American has a high school degree or has passed a drug test. 

The value provided by our federal-state unemployment system to affected Americans, their communities, and the broader economy has long been recognized on a bipartisan basis.  Moreover, members of Congress have a moral obligation to assist our fellow Americans who are struggling to find work through no fault of their own.  We urge the Committee to extend the federal provisions through the end of the calendar year without reducing benefit levels or making other wholesale changes to how the program is administered and who qualifies for support.