Days before Christmas, the American people made their outrage heard loud and clear when Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to agree to a temporary extension of vital benefits for working families including unemployment insurance, a payroll tax cut and Medicare doctor’s fees. At the final hour, House Republicans were forced to accept bipartisan legislation that secures these services until February.
During the disagreement last year, House Republicans argued for a one year extension of unemployment benefits in an attempt to distract the American people from becoming aware of their real motives–reduce the maximum duration a person is able to apply for benefits from 99 weeks to 59 weeks, and forces states to decide if people applying for unemployment insurance should attend GED classes and undergo drug testing.
There is one statement we must make clear–unemployed workers are not uneducated drug users, but rather hard-working people who rely on this funding to keep their families afloat during these uncertain economic times. According to the Congressional Budget Office, each dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates up to $1.90 in economic growth and in 2010 the benefits kept 3.2 million people from falling over a cliff. The Republicans should stop distorting the picture of the unemployed and focus their time on developing bi-partisan solutions to support American people through the growth of our economy. The demographics of the unemployed are diverse–84 percent of the unemployed have a high school degree or higher, the unemployment rate between men and women with a bachelor’s degree is nearly the same at 4.8 and 4.7 percent respectively, and the highest unemployment rate continues to be in Black and Latino communities. Republicans should start examining what happens when there are more unemployed people than available jobs, as is currently the case with an average of four jobless people for every U.S. job opening.
When Congress reconvenes this month, a bipartisan conference committee will meet to discuss a year-long solution to extend unemployment benefits before the temporary fix expires. It is imperative that we once again let Republicans know that we will not sit quietly while they try to play politics with the American people’s livelihood. Throughout 2011 Republicans used our current fiscal crisis to reshape the very foundation of our country. They attempted to eliminate or reduce benefits for American families by hijacking legislation and inserting fundamental changes to essential social programs. We must stand together and protect these vital resources because if Republicans get their way in February, unemployment benefits as we know them will cease to exist for millions of Americans who are diligently searching for work, but unable to find jobs due to no fault of their own.
Although the final hour is once again near, we must continue to work together and demand unemployment benefits remain intact without unnecessary tampering from the Republican Party. I ask that you call House Speaker John Boehner’s office at 202-225-0600 to let him know the real faces of the unemployed and how these policies could have a devastating impact on you and your family.
Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.