WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and Representatives from states with high unemployment, including Rodney Alexander (LA), Chris Bell (TX), Tim Bishop (NY), and Darlene Hooley (OR), called today for a broader extension of unemployment assistance for out of work Americans. The following is Rep. Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery...
"When we announced this press conference yesterday it was to demand an extension on the May 31st expiration of unemployment benefits for 4 million unemployed workers. Who knew we would be so effective that the Republican leadership would immediately cave and put a bill to extend unemployment on the floor today?
“But Republicans have done with unemployment something that they have become quite adept at – putting forth half measures to try and blur the lines between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican bill extends the life of the current program 6 months as democrats demanded. But it continues to provide only 13 weeks of additional benefits to workers exhausting their state benefits.
"This will yank away the life line for 1 million unemployed workers who have already exhausted their state and federal benefits.
“The Democratic proposal would extend federal benefits from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for unemployed workers. This means we would give workers who have already exhausted their 13 weeks under the original extension some more time to find a job in a tough market. Republicans say that they are concerned that extending unemployment benefits leaves little incentive for people to look hard for a job. But this contention is disputed, not just by Democrats, but by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan who testified that extending unemployment benefits during a weak job market does not risk prolonging unemployment.
“And the fact is, it is hard to find a job right now. Since President Bush took office America has lost almost 3 million jobs – the worst record of any president in recent history. The job market is weaker than it was when congress first extended unemployment benefits. There are fewer jobs in the economy than there have been at any time in the past 41 months. And long-term unemployment is as high as it has been in 10 years.
“In addition, extending and strengthening unemployment benefits is more effective short-term stimulus than the tax scheme that the Republicans are ramming through Congress this week - giving the economy a $1.73 jolt for each $1 of benefits. This is nearly 20 times the expected “bang for the buck” that you get from cutting dividend taxes.
“Tom DeLay said on the floor during the debate on tax bill: “now they [Democrats] have the gall to suggest that we twiddle our thumbs as Americans struggle to feed their families.” The idea that Democrats – the party that has always fought for working people not just when it is politically expedient – would twiddle its thumbs while families struggle to pay their bills and feed their families is not just ridiculous, it’s a lie.
“We are not the ones twiddling our thumbs. In fact, I believe it is in large part because of the pressure that we placed on Republicans over the past few weeks that there is an unemployment extension bill on the floor today."
Summary of the Unemployment Benefits Extension Act
Introduced by Representatives Charles B. Rangel and Benjamin L. Cardin
EXTENSION: Extends the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program through November (the program is currently scheduled to prohibit any new enrollees after May 31st).
BENEFITS: Provides 26 weeks to all eligible workers with an additional 7 weeks available in States with higher unemployment.
EXHAUSTEES: Provides an additional 13 weeks to unemployed workers who exhausted their initial 13 weeks of extended benefits prior to enactment (for a total of 26 weeks).
NEW TRIGGERS: Revises trigger for determining high unemployment to a 4% Adjusted Insured Unemployment Rate, which includes recent exhaustees, or a 6% Total Unemployment Rate. This modification would allow
about 18 States to qualify (only five States trigger on under the current-law definition).
LOW-WAGE WORKERS: Provides temporary Federal funding (through July 2004) for States to implement alternative base periods (which count a worker’s most recent wages when determining UI eligibility) and to allow displaced part-time workers to seek part-time employment while receiving UI.