Call on Congress to extend unemployment benefits

UnemploymentOn December 28, federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired, resulting in 1.3 million Americans suddenly losing benefits.

This EUC program was initially authorized by Congress in 2008 and has been extended every year since in an effort to help millions of Americans facing hardships while this country recovers from the economic recession. Although there are signs that the economy is improving and unemployment is declining, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ November report shows 11.3 million workers remain unemployed and the overall unemployment rate is at a startlingly high 7.0%. 4.1 million of these workers are considered long-term unemployed, having been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

On December 28th, federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired, resulting in 1.3 million Americans suddenly losing unemployment benefits. This program was initially authorized by Congress in 2008 and has been extended every year since in an effort to help millions of Americans facing hardships while the nation recovers from the economic recession. Although there are signs that the economy is improving and unemployment is declining, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ November report shows 11.3 million workers remain unemployed, and the overall unemployment rate is at a startlingly high 7.0%. Over 4 million of these workers are considered long-term unemployed, having been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a short-term safety net proven to yield positive results in individual households and the national economy. These benefits, provided only to individuals who are actively seeking employment, help low-income and asset-poor families secure access to food, shelter, healthcare, medicine, and other critical needs while they strive to get back on their feet in the midst of a recession. It is estimated that these benefits kept 2.5 million Americans from falling into poverty in 2012 alone. Furthermore, economists estimate that the economy grows by $1.61 for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance, because most recipients spend all of their benefit payments quickly., economic activity that helps to support local businesses and economic growth.

In every recession since the mid-1950s, the federal government has passed legislation providing extended unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who exhaust their state unemployment benefits. Those benefits have never expired when the long-term unemployment rate was this high; in fact, the current unemployment rate is twice as high as it was at the expiration of every previously extended UI benefits program.

Our faith calls us to help protect the most vulnerable in their times of need. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 reminds us, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” Congress is expected to debate this week about extending emergency unemployment insurance in 2014. If Congress fails to act, 3.6 million additional long-term unemployed workers could lose access to UI benefits by the end of 2014, and 240,000 jobs may be lost across the United States. We must remind our leaders to act now with conscience and an eye toward investing in future economic growth by helping unemployed workers who are seeking jobs in our still-troubled economy.

Act now: Tell your member of Congress to support action to extend unemployment benefits.

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