"Now that I need help it's nowhere to be found..."
My constituent, Cassie Jones,* sits in her apartment, which she has rented since 1986, wondering how she will pay the rent next month. Since she lost her job of 18 years, she has been surviving on unemployment benefits and her savings account. Over 150 job applications later, her benefits are exhausted and her savings account is nearly dry. She needs help.**
Failing to extend unemployment benefits is nonsensical and callous. Yet, in the past three months, House Republicans have failed to consider an unemployment insurance extension eight times. Political affiliation should have no weight in determining whether to place food on the table of your constituents and lift them out of poverty.
Since it expired late last year, over 40,000 Wisconsinites have lost unemployment insurance, affecting over 20,000 children. Yet the impact doesn't end there. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that there will be 200,000 fewer jobs in 2014 if Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance. Moreover, the Democratic Ways and Means Committee projects that failing to extend this benefit has drained over $75 million from our Wisconsin economy from January through March. Americans are hurting. The last thing they need or deserve is their government inflicting more wounds.
President Ronald Reagan was correct. Unemployment insurance is a "lifeline that extends to millions of Americans..." This vital lifeline should continue to be extended to millions of our brothers, sisters and neighbors in need. Unfortunately, my constituent Cassie now joins over 2 million Americans, approximately 72,000 Americans each week, who have been thrown from their lifelines. Like Cassie, they are sinking.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are running out of excuses for turning their backs on millions. One of their main arguments is that giving their constituents much-needed unemployment benefits cultivates laziness and government dependency.
To that false belief, I would ask if throwing a life vest to a drowning individual creates laziness or helps that person survive. When the recession began in 2007, there were approximately 1 million more jobs than there are today. In fact, the last time the government decided to not renew extended unemployment benefits, our long-term unemployment rate was almost half of what it is now. Yet instead of working to extend our unemployment lifeline or create jobs, my Republican colleagues continue to waste taxpayer money and hours of our time voting on bills to nowhere, with almost complete disregard for our current crisis.
However despite the obstructionism, hope remains. Members of the Senate have passed a bipartisan plan to extend unemployment insurance. Although their plan is not perfect, it offers a bipartisan and constructive approach to renewing unemployment benefits. It is my hope that Members of the House follow their lead and work to provide some relief to our struggling constituents.
Too many have been hurting for too long for my colleagues to walk away. For Cassie Jones and over 2 million hard working Americans, Congressional indecisiveness is not a viable option. We must act now.
* Name changed for privacy.
** This constituent wrote her story in response to this prompt.