Transcript: House Democratic Steering Committee hearing on unemployment insurance on Dec. 5, 2013

Partial transcript of remarks by House Democratic leaders at the Steering & Policy Committee hearing on extending federal unemployment insurance on Dec. 5, 2013:

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Michigan):
…In human and in economic terms, this Congress has a mandate to extend federal unemployment insurance. We will in a few minutes see the human side from the the three Americans who are joining us to tell their personal stories, and I think they’ll be, in a sense, very personal. They represent more than 1 million other Americans with similar stories who will lose every dime of this support instantly on Dec. 28th if this Congress fails to act. A further 3.6 million Americans would lose access to federal unemployment insurance next year as they exhaust their state coverage. We strongly believe that if every member of Congress would take even a few minutes to speak personally with unemployed workers, there would not be any question at all about the need to extend the federal UI program. More than anything else, they want a job. But finding work remains very difficult in an economy that still has 1.5 million fewer jobs than before the recession started 6 years ago. We have never had anything close to such a sustained job deficit after any recent downturn.

It has been said in opposition to an extension of the federal emergency compensation program was adopted – and I quote – “for extraordinary circumstances that are disappearing”. No. No. These extraordinary circumstances continue as indicated in the report issued just this morning by President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that highlights that the current long-term unemployment rate is at least twice as high as it was at the expiration of every previous extended UI benefit program. The extraordinary circumstances, in a few words, continue. The report also sets out the economic impact of a failure to act. It agrees with CBO, with Wall Street analysts, and other economists that allowing the federal UI program to expire will cost our economy at least 200,000 jobs next year because of reduced consumer demand.

For this Congress to ignore the national economic impact would be short-sighted; to ignore the human – the individual human impact – would be cold-hearted.

That is not the better nation – the better nature of our nation and I trust of this Congress.

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-New Jersey):

…A member of the House Republican leadership said this week “there is no appetite for extending unemployment benefits in the Republican conference.”

Today, we’re here not to hear about appetite but about hunger – about the hunger that people across this country – 1.3 million of them have for the dignity of work, the literal hunger that many of these families will suffer on the 28th of December if benefits are not extended, and the hunger we should have as a country, as an economy for putting people back to work.

The statements we hear this morning will be more than eloquent. I thank the witnesses for being here, and we look forward to getting to work to extend unemployment benefits.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut):

…It’s been 5 years since the financial crisis precipitated a Great Recession. It destroyed millions of American jobs and trillions in household wealth.

And we’ve got many families in this country that are struggling to get back on their feet.

Unemployment – 7.2%. One out of every 6 Americans amongst us lives in poverty, and 1 in 6 is battling hunger. On the face of the need, Congress needs to be doing everything that we can – create jobs, grow the economy, help those who are struggling. It is a moral responsibility that we have.

And over the past few years, we have seen a majority do nothing to address this issue.

The fact of the matter is if we do not extend UI before the end of the year, 1.3 million men and women will lose their benefits right away, another 1.9 [million] will lose their benefits by July 1, 2014. This is bad news for families who are already struggling.

Failing to extend the benefits ripples throughout the economy. It will cost us about 310,000 jobs next year.

I just want to quote someone. The Speaker held a hearing 5 years ago on the financial crisis and it was about discussing how we stimulate the economy. One of the witnesses was Mark Zandi, the economist and advisor to the John McCain campaign. We asked him what was the fastest way to increase the demand and employment and get our economy moving again. He talked about 3 things: Expand access to food stamps, continue to provide refundable tax credits, and extend the unemployment benefits. That was the way to get us back on track.

Today, we hear from a panel who are going to explain exactly how unemployment insurance benefits families and the American economy and why it is imperative for this Congress to move and act before the year ends.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia):
…I’m sure that your feelings about being unemployed and searching for work and being unable to find anything – the affect that that has on you mentally is just very – you wouldn’t know it unless you went through it and I think that’s the problem with a lot of our colleagues here in Congress is that, you know, many were born with a silver spoon and so they never had to encounter times where it was hard to make ends meet…

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nevada):
…I’m from Nevada. My state has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.3%. And in a state with fewer than 3 million people, we have some 20,000 individuals who will lose their emergency unemployment benefits on Dec. 28th if we don’t do something about that. And if the Republican leadership continues to sit idly by, by next July, that number will double to 40,000…

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California):
…We owe you. This Congress owes you…I feel so strongly that you have been slapped in the face by your country, and we have got to make sure that your benefits continue…

We talk in numbers too much around here, and your faces tell the story of people who are hardworking, who have been discriminated because of age…


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