Transcript: Testimony of Rev. Larry Snyder on the expiring federal unemployment insurance before the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee on Dec. 5, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony of Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities, on the expiring federal unemployment insurance before the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee on Dec. 5, 2013:

…I’m grateful to have the opportunity to make a few remarks and also bring the perspective of non-profits who provide help to Americans in need each and every day.

As Rep. DeLauro said, Catholic Charities throughout this country serves about 10 million people every year and that’s about 1 in 4 persons living in poverty. That’s why this is such an important issue for us because we don’t want to see those numbers increase.

In less than 20 days, millions across our country will gather with family to celebrate Christmas and the holidays. And yet, only days after marking the holiday with family and loved ones more than 1 million Americans may lose this vital benefit if it is not renewed, and their ability to provide for their families may be in jeopardy.

Unemployment insurance benefits are a vital life-link for unemployed workers and their families. It can make the difference between continuing to have housing and also having enough to eat, and this will affect especially children and some veterans.

It serves as a bridge when a temporary job loss is experienced. Without it, individuals can easily slip into poverty. Extending this benefit is simply a wiser investment of dollars until our economy is robust enough to create sufficient employment opportunities for those who spend so much time looking for work.

Behind the statistic of millions of jobless workers are men and women, as we’ve heard this morning, who have worked their whole lives and who take pride in being a contributing member of their community. They are our neighbors. They are our extended family members.

Let there be no mistake that the people who receive this benefit are people who have worked everyday and want to work. They want and need the dignity of work to allow them to provide for themselves and their families.

Unemployment is not the life these individuals seek nor is it the one they want. They want to continue moving toward the American dream and it is incumbent upon all of us to do everything that we can to ensure that a robust economy and good-paying jobs are the long-term solutions.

At Catholic Charities, we see first-hand what choices unemployed Americans face as they look for work, leaving them and their families vulnerable as they continue their job search.

The impact of unemployment extends beyond individuals and families to community and neighborhoods as well. High unemployment and poverty go hand-in-hand, and the characteristic of poor neighborhoods amplify the impact of unemployment. This benefit is an investment to keep our communities healthy.

When the workforce and the economy take a hit as we have seen these last several years, social service agencies are often the first to feel the impact.

For example, within days of this fall’s government shutdown, Catholic Charities agencies were immediately reporting the increased need in their community as a result of the changed employment situation of federal workers.

While Catholic Charities remains committed to helping families get back on their feet as they search for work, we can only be a part of the solution.

It is understandable that this benefit should not be extended permanently. But as a nation, we should not pull the rug out from under the Americans who continue to look for work in this economy that is ever so slow to recover. We can understand having limits but we have to take into account the reality of the depth of the current setback in the economy.

Our Catholic tradition teaches us that society acting through the government has a special obligation to consider first the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.

Pope Francis has called on us numerous times to recognize the needs of our neighbors and to make responding to those folks a priority. He said in his recent apostolic exhortation this: “It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and health care. I’m firmly convinced that openness to the transcendence can bring about a new political and economic mindset, which would help break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.”

I urge Congress to do the same.

The challenge here today is for Congress to work together to support a bipartisan effort to ensure that our neighbors do not go without by extending this benefit in this time of great need for so many.

Thank you.


Q&A responses:

Well, I think charity has a role to play without a doubt, but charity cannot do it alone. And our tradition in this country has been that charity partners with the government and we work together because we both have that as a common goal is the common good, especially the most vulnerable.

And as far as saying that government has role in it, I’m not sure what their faith tradition might be but I think those of us who certainly who are Christian, who are Jewish, and even in the Muslim tradition, there is that very clear responsibility to your neighbor, especially your neighbor in need. So I would encourage them to go back and look at their roots of their faith tradition because I think the very things we’re talking about here today, you will find an answer there.

I think there’s definitely a ripple effect. When you look in our communities, American people are very generous people. There are a lot of different ways that they really try to reach out. But I think the scale of what we’re seeing here is not something that private charity can ever make up.

And because of that, people in this situation are forced to make very difficult decisions – choices – about “Am I going to pay the mortgage?” “Am I going to pay for my medicine?” “Or am I going to not buy food?”

I think most non-profits have seen our greatest increase in demand for need is food because people give up food because they can’t give up housing, they can’t give up medicine or shouldn’t. But they know they can get help with food somewhere else. It still isn’t enough.

I would just bring up one of the things that really worries me is of course what’s going to happen with SNAP benefits, which is just going to compound all of this.


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