WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today regarding the Republican Party’s failure to extend emergency unemployment benefits before Congress adjourned for the year. The federal Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program, which began in March 2002, will be phased out beginning December 21, meaning that people who exhaust their regular state unemployment benefits on or after that date will go without a paycheck or an unemployment check:
“For the second year in a row, Congressional Republicans have breathed life into the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge by ignoring the plight of the America’s unemployed during the Holiday season.
“No issue more clearly demonstrates the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats recognize that joblessness is a problem affecting millions of Americans who are struggling and hurting, and anxious to get back to work. We want to help these Americans get back on their feet. Republicans have deliberately chosen to ignore them.
“Republicans argue that no extension of the federal Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program is necessary because the economy is improving. But here’s the reality: The unemployment rate last month was actually higher than when the federal program was enacted by Congress in March 2002 (5.9 percent versus 5.7 percent). There are 8.7 million unemployed Americans today and nearly one-fourth of them – some 2 million people – have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. That is the highest percentage of long-term unemployment since July 1983.
“An estimated 80,000 to 90,000 jobless workers will exhaust their state benefits every week after December 21, meaning that they will be completely cut off from any aid. No paycheck. No unemployment compensation.
“What makes the Republican Party’s refusal to act doubly outrageous is that we have the money to pay for extended benefits. The federal unemployment insurance trust fund – which is financed by unemployment taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks –currently contains about $20 billion. The cost of extending the TEUC program is less than $1 billion a month.
“When Congress reconvenes in January, I urge Congressional Republicans – and President Bush – to join Democrats in supporting the immediate resumption of the TEUC program and to make assistance retroactive for those who exhausted regular benefits after December 21. Republicans want to make this issue one of economic spin. For too many American families, it is one of survival.”