WASHINGTON - In an effort to boost the economy and prevent 25,000 Oregonians from abruptly losing their jobless benefits at the end of the year, Oregon senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined 40 Senate colleagues Monday in calling for the preservation of federal unemployment insurance programs slated to expire as part of the so-called "fiscal cliff."
The senators say that preserving unemployment insurance through 2013 will spur consumer demand and help local businesses, states, and struggling families, and warn that cutting off UI could severely hinder economic recovery and harm the middle class.
The 42 senators sent a letter to Senate leadership, noting: "We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the expiration of federal support for unemployment insurance at the end of the year. Unemployment insurance is an essential component of our ongoing economic recovery and provides support to workers and their families who have been laid off through no fault of their own as they search for work."
Despite recent declines in the unemployment rate, the letter notes that more than 12 million Americans are still looking for work, and that there are approximately 3.4 unemployed job-seekers for every available job opening.
The federal UI program requires workers to search for jobs, and a recent study from Congress' Joint Economic Committee (JEC) shows that "beneficiaries of federal UI benefits have spent more time searching for work than those who were ineligible for UI benefits."
Last month, the Economic Policy Institute found that the U.S. economy would save about 400,000 jobs if federal jobless benefits are continued through 2013. If benefits are cut off, millions of Americans will have less money in their pockets, meaning less spending in local businesses.
If Congress fails to act by the end of the year, about 2 million Americans – including 25,000 Oregonians -- could stop receiving their weekly unemployment checks, no matter where they are in the federal program.
Starting January 1, it will be back to a system of up to 26 weeks of jobless benefits, well below the 99 weeks of assistance Americans were eligible for at the height of the recession.
Additionally, by mid-April, another 1 million Americans will exhaust those 26 weeks of state benefits and will not be able to sign up for the federal program, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Congress already trimmed the program earlier this year, reducing the number of weeks of eligibility and covering an estimated 500,000 fewer Americans.
Text of the letter follows :
Dear Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader McConnell:
We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the expiration of federal support for unemployment insurance at the end of the year. Unemployment insurance is an essential component of our ongoing economic recovery and provides support to workers and their families who have been laid off through no fault of their own as they search for work.
The economy has had 32 straight months of private sector job growth and created a total of 5.4 million jobs during that time. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate remains elevated, 12.3 million Americans are out of work, and there are 3.4 unemployed workers for every job opening. In light of this unacceptable jobs situation, it is crucial that we focus on ways to get Americans back to work and that we continue unemployment insurance through 2013. Failure to continue unemployment insurance before December 29, 2012 will immediately cause over 2 million unemployed Americans to lose federal benefits and would by April deny support to an additional 1 million Americans as they exhaust their state benefits.
Continuation of unemployment insurance has in the past, though often after much unnecessary delay, passed on a bipartisan basis. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, independent economists, and policy think tanks have consistently found that unemployment insurance is one of our best economic stabilizers and generates tremendous bang for the buck relative to other economic policies. Given the potency and efficiency of unemployment insurance there should be no reason to let it lapse or expire. Indeed, a recent analysis found that every dollar of UI generates $1.60 in economic activity and failure to continue unemployment insurance through 2013 would reduce economic growth by $48 billion and sap 400,000 jobs from the economy.
Because of the significant impact on the unemployed, their families, and the economy we urge you to ensure that unemployment insurance is continued before its expiration and through 2013.