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GOP Hit on Unemployment Benefits Hurting Americans -- What Else Is New?

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Out of work "Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for the mortgage or rent, food, and other critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down."

This is one of the strongest arguments for unemployment benefits ever made by a president. Surprisingly, these words came not from President Obama but from President Bush in a radio address in 2002.

Yet his party in Congress almost unanimously ensured that these vital benefits ended last week for 1.3 million Americans and will end for a further 1.9 million Americans in the first six months of 2014. Of the more than 3 million who have been heartlessly cut off from these earned benefits, the greatest number comes from New Jersey, according to a House Ways and Means Committee report.

President Bush, who might well be the most conservative president in American history, looks like a progressive compared to today's GOP lawmakers, who are cruelly letting their fellow Americans down. For instance, Sen Rand Paul, a would-be presidential candidate, declared in brutal language that extending benefits beyond 26 weeks -- the program that ended last week extended those benefits for up to 47 weeks -- creates a permanent underclass of Americans. For Paul and most of his colleagues, the reality of still high unemployment is the fault of Americans desperate to work rather than their far-right policies which hamper the American economy.

His approach -- and that of most Republicans in Washington -- couldn't be more wrong. Extending unemployment benefits is a lifeline that is needed until these Americans can again find work. I often talk with residents of Jersey City who have been looking for work for much too long. Not once have I been asked for benefits. Rather, I am always asked to help them find a job. That's what they want -- to work. Not one wants the benefits but they need them until they are working again.

In other words, the cure isn't the GOP's ruthless medicine. Bluntly stated, the cure is jobs. And, again, that's where the Republicans have it so wrong.

Government working with businesses can help create jobs for those who need them. It would be great if the private sector alone could significantly reduce unemployment but five years into a tepid recovery says that's not going to work. Nor can the public sector create enough on its own.

In trying to achieve their reckless goal of demolishing government, Republicans have hurt far too many Americans. Alternatively, under the correct circumstances, government should be able to help grow the economy.

In Jersey City, we are enjoying an almost unparalleled commercial and residential development. Our challenge is to link young persons and the underemployed with the training necessary to benefit from this investment.

First, we are working with the secondary schools, community colleges, and skilled building trade unions to ensure that non-college bound youth have the requisite skills to qualify for union admittance as an apprentice. Second, we are working with our four-year technical colleges and specialized manufacturers to design and teach a curriculum that produces a highly proficient workforce for "state of the art" industries. And third, we are working with labor intensive industries to prequalify ex-offenders for employment, while offering our clients ongoing job coaching, addiction treatment, and housing referrals.

In concert with this initiative, we have also adapted our tax abatement policies, bringing new development and hope to a part of the city that has seen no new construction in 30 years. Already three huge residential towers are slated for construction, creating hundreds of construction jobs to city residents. And our training is focused and making sure residents are poised to take advantage of these opportunities.

We also became the first city in the northeast, and just the 6th in the United States, to institute earned sick leave for employees of small businesses. While this isn't at first glance a job creator, studies show it does enhance worker productivity and longevity. In other words, thousands of workers will avoid the need for unemployment benefits.

So let's get the New Year started in the right direction for over three million Americans.

It is a strong first step that Senate Democrats will move this week to pass legislation to bring back unemployment benefits. Republicans, especially those in the House, should heed the words of President Bush and not only do the decent thing but the right thing for our economy. Unfortunately, it's probably too much to expect that they will look further for creative government solutions, such as those working in Jersey City, to help move our economy forward.

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