EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2014

Extend unemployment to put the 3rd District back to work

Niki Tsongas
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Hardworking people from right here in Massachusetts’ 3rd District, struggling to make ends meet while diligently seeking jobs, were dealt a serious blow at the end of last year. They, along with more than one million other Americans, lost their emergency unemployment insurance when Congress failed to extend the program.

There is a single mom from the 3rd District, laid off after 23 years with the same company, and her teenage daughter, who have cut their family’s household budget of all but the bare essentials, yet still worry about losing their home.

And there is a father struggling to find permanent employment who has taken temporary jobs wherever he could find them to ensure his two children could stay enrolled at their local colleges.

Both depended on unemployment insurance to ensure their family’s survival.

Across the country, the number of impacted Americans has risen to 1.7 million and, without Congressional renewal, will continue to grow.

There is no excuse for Congress’ failure to reauthorize this funding when there are still between two and three job-seekers for every job opening. America’s total number of long-term unemployed remains as high as it ever has been since World War II and includes all ages, industries and demographics. These men and women, many of whom lost their jobs during the recession through no fault of their own, have faced many obstacles that perpetuate unemployment, even as they doggedly pursue work. Studies have shown evidence of unemployment discrimination, with employers become leery of hiring the long-term unemployed. And the Urban Institute has even shown that when incomes drop, personal health and even children’s school work tends to falter.

Economists agree that this all has a negative impact on America’s economy, in the short term and in the long run. And there is very little evidence that shows canceling unemployment insurance helps people find jobs.

Undoubtedly, unemployment insurance helps individuals and families avoid economic disaster while providing a boost to our nation’s economy as a whole.

There is support in Congress from both Republicans and Democrats for an extension. In December, I joined 187 of my colleagues in sending a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging him to let the House of Representatives vote on extension legislation. My colleagues and I wrote again in January, urging the speaker not to recess the House until such a bill was passed.

But to date, Republican leaders have inexplicably blocked any progress on this issue. On Feb. 6, four Senate Republicans broke from their party leaders to support an extension, but the refusal of others to do so meant that the measure was defeated.

Hundreds of 3rd District residents have contacted my office in the past month urging action.

One woman wrote: “I am a professional sales executive with advanced degrees in engineering and business. I was laid off in April 2013 and have been aggressively looking for work in every possible fashion.”

Another resident wrote: “I worked for one company for 25 years and another one for 9 years. Please do what you can. I currently have no income and no job. I want to work, and will keep looking.”

But one man from the 3rd District succinctly summed up the situation that so many other Americans are facing. He wrote: “I am not sitting home watching TV and enjoying my time. This has been an awful year and has changed my life forever. I have three kids to provide for and I have done everything in my power to get a new job … Please do what you can to extend benefits so we can continue to look.”

Last week I spoke on the House floor to give national voice to these 3rd District residents. Renewing unemployment insurance is a fundamental component to job growth and to rebuilding our nation’s economic stability.

In January, The Eagle-Tribune rightly editorialized about the importance of extending unemployment insurance. The editorial said: “for the recovery for this recession to be considered complete, it needs to include all Americans.”

I agree, and so do the people of Massachusetts’ 3rd District. We are all ready to get to work.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, represents the 3rd District.