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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

Posted: October 19, 2009 11:06 AM

Republicans Must Stop Playing Politics With Unemployment Benefits

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More than 7,000 people across the country are losing their unemployment benefits every single day because Republicans are playing politics. Hardworking, middle class families, who are already cutting coupons and squeezing pennies to make ends meet, are now going to have the last strand of the safety net pulled right out from under them, simply because Republicans are obstructing progress.

Last week, the majority of my colleagues and I moved twice to extend unemployment benefits for millions of hardworking Americans who have been laid off and unable to find work in this difficult economy. These are our families, our friends, our neighbors. We all know someone who has been thrown into this situation.

But rather than do what is right, Republicans did what was politically convenient, twice blocking the extension in an effort to derail other economic recovery programs.

This week my colleagues and I will try again to extend the badly needed payments for another 13 weeks. It is my hope that Republicans will drop their obstruction and join with us to extend unemployment benefits to tens of thousands of hardworking Americans.

With almost 14 million people unemployed around the country, the U.S. unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent; right here in New York, it's 8.9% and 10.3% in New York City. Without an extension, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and about a million of our long-term unemployed nationwide will lose benefits by the end of the year. We must not allow this to happen, especially as the holidays approach. As our economic recovery continues to take shape, it's crucial that we not forget about those families who are hurting the most, still struggling to find work in a very difficult job market.

When I travel throughout New York, I speak to many who are struggling. They tell me how hard they are looking for jobs, that there simply aren't any. When there is a job opening, hundreds of applicants show up and line up around the block for a chance to get hired. These are hard working people who would much prefer to work to put food on their table rather than accept a check from the government. But until our economy recovers to a point where it's creating jobs at a sustainable pace, we must step in to help.

Extending unemployment benefits is not only the morally right thing to do, it is good economic policy in a recession. These unemployment benefits not only put money in the hands of those that need it most, but they are immediately stimulative to the economy, as families use the funds for the most critical needs.

So far this year in New York alone, 70,000 people in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region have collected unemployment benefits, 78% of whom relied on those benefits for their basic necessities; in the Hudson Valley region, more than 90,000 collected the benefits, 68% of whom relied on that income for their basic needs; more than 125,000 Long Island residents collected unemployment benefits, 76% of whom relied on that money to support their families; and in New York City, nearly 400,000 people collected unemployment benefits, 67% of whom relied on that money for their basic needs.

The job market is historically the last step of an economic recovery, forcing the unemployed to bear the brunt of the recession the longest and making it increasingly difficult to find new work. It's simply unfair and unreasonable to ask them to bear this burden without assistance, and I hope Republicans will stop obstructing and join us in helping our fellow Americans in their time of need.