“We plan to push for passage of 99er bill in 112th Congress”

UPDATE: H.R. 6556 op-ed in Richmond Times Dispatch, “Scott + Lee: A Miracle for 99ers?” click here

“One of our government’s core moral obligations is to help Americans in need…” When was the last time you heard that argument for a bill in Congress?

fyi: our feed FINALLY works

As it was in 2010 it is in 2011.  The issue is jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Four days before the start of the 112th Congress at noon on January 5th, two members of the CBC are kicking off the year with a jobs related concern.  Members of the CBC spent much of last year pushing the White House and Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer for summer jobs for youth and unemployment insurance.  The results varied.  Now, lead sponsor of H.R. 6556 (the bill # will change when it is re-introduced in January) Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Bobby Scott are circulating an op-ed on the issue of those who have already run through their unemployment, the “99ers.”  The term refers to the unemployed who have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits. Reps. Lee and Scott are likely to be joined by others.  Look for Reps. Keith Ellison, Sheila Jackson Lee, Raul Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey to push along with them.

By Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.): A month ago, Delta Airlines announced it was hiring 1,000 new flight attendants. The job can be difficult, and the pay isn’t great. Nevertheless, more than 100,000 people applied. Sadly, we’ve seen this story repeated across the country. Americans are desperate for work.

Joblessness during the Great Depression

Though the economy is getting better, out-of-work Americans face the most difficult job market of their lifetimes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 4.4 unemployed people for every job opening in America today. Add in those who are working part-time but want full-time work, and the number exceeds seven unemployed or underemployed Americans per unfilled job.

These stories and statistics show why unemployment insurance — now more than ever — is so important. The tax compromise President Obama recently negotiated with Republicans extended unemployment benefits for many people. But it didn’t help the long-term unemployed, people who have exhausted their available weeks of state and federal unemployment benefits, equaling 99 weeks in roughly half of all states. That is why we recently introduced a bill to help these “99ers” and others who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, by adding another 14 weeks of benefits they can receive. This extension won’t solve everything, but it will provide them vital extra time to find work as the economy slowly improves.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Make no mistake — they want to work. We’ve heard from so many people who have told us their stories of how they struggle to make ends meet while sending out dozens and even hundreds of job applications. For these people, unemployment benefits are the only thing standing between them and complete disaster — foreclosure, eviction, the inability to provide even the basics for their families. The average weekly benefit in the U.S. is $302.90 — hardly a king’s ransom, but just enough for many to keep their heads above water.

Yet some would turn their backs on their fellow Americans during the holidays and in these most trying of economic times. Like the “Grinch” that stole Christmas, conservative talking heads call unemployed people lazy, and oppose these much-needed benefits while working to ensure the rich get richer through more tax cuts.

One of our government’s core moral obligations is to help Americans in need. Unemployment benefits do more than provide a vital lifeline for those who have lost their jobs, they also give a boost to the economy. Earlier this year, Mark Zandi — an economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign — testified before Congress that one dollar spent on unemployment benefits produces $1.61 of economic activity. That’s compared to only 32 cents from each dollar spent on extending the Bush tax cuts.

Rep. Bobby Scott, right

While some may call this bill an empty gesture, in our view there is nothing “empty” about helping hard-working Americans. We suggested that the provisions of this bill — also a part of the alternative proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus — be added to the president’s original tax compromise, but it was not accepted. That is one reason we voted against the tax cut bill.

We plan to push for passage of our “99er” bill into the 112th Congress.
We know we have a tough road ahead, but after all, it is the season of miracles. With your support, we can help these conservative “Grinches” grow hearts and vote to help these hard-working Americans get back on their feet. Extending unemployment benefits to buy a little more time for the “99ers” and other exhaustees is the least we can do.