Last updated: May 12. 2014 3:29PM - 3471 Views
U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.)

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I am for the extension of emergency unemployment benefits – not just rhetorically, but in the votes I cast and the bills I advocate to ensure critical assistance to those who are looking for work but cannot find it.

For many families, emergency unemployment assistance enables them to continue paying their bills and putting food on the family dinner table and keeps them in their home as they search for work.

Unemployment assistance is not a luxury; it is the difference between barely scraping by and falling off the financial cliff. If unemployed workers lose their car, or cannot afford gas, or their phone bill, chances of them finding a job and getting back to work decline significantly.

Of the 3.5 million unemployed Americans who have been looking for work for longer than 27 weeks, one in ten are veterans. It is especially disheartening to see the Republican-controlled House of Representatives continue to oppose legislation that would provide unemployment relief to our military heroes who have served and sacrificed for our State and Nation.

When long-term unemployment benefits expired last December for workers who had exhausted their 26 weeks of benefits provided by the State, 7,000 West Virginians were cut off from emergency assistance. Since then, hundreds of West Virginians have lost their unemployment benefits every week as their state-funded insurance benefits expire – leaving so many more workers without unemployment benefits they otherwise should be receiving.

The heartless and cruel opposition in the Congress to extending a helping hand to those out of work for long periods of time has motivated me to push even harder for action.

I have consistently voted to extend emergency unemployment assistance for those out of work longer than 27 weeks.

Prior to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expiring, I cosponsored legislation and urged the Congressional Republican Leadership to bring to the House Floor for a vote, legislation to extend the current long-term unemployment benefits program. Their refusal to extend the emergency unemployment program has been harmful to millions of workers and their families and counterproductive to the economic recovery.

Unemployment benefits have been used to fight economic downturns since the Great Depression – with workers quickly spending the benefits they receive, buying from local stores and injecting money into the economy. In the depths of the Great Recession, federal emergency unemployment benefits boosted employment by about 750,000 jobs nationwide, which added to the 1 million jobs generated by state-funded unemployment benefits.

Since 1948, Congress has never allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire with the unemployment rate so high. It didn’t matter which political party controlled the Congress or the White House – extended unemployment benefits were always made available during long economic downturns because it’s the decent and humane thing to do.

We sometimes forget that unemployment benefits are only available to those who lose their job through no fault of their own – workers looking for a job but unable to find one.

It is a solidly middle-class program. Nearly 70 percent of the families who received unemployment assistance have annual incomes right in the middle of our Nation’s income distribution — around $50,000.

Most Americans, at one point or another, are caught between jobs – it happens to all of us in our life. Emergency unemployment assistance is not a program for people on the dole. It’s for people who take pride in working and providing for their families.

The sooner we get this program renewed, the sooner we can extend a helping hand to those who need it and get our economy back on track.

(Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit http://rahall.house.gov)

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