GOP failing to help those who need it

Jul 12, 2010 Issues: Economy

At the end of May, federal emergency unemployment compensation began to dry up. Since then, each week, thousands of Americans have lost their unemployment insurance — putting additional strain on struggling families, communities, and making the pain felt by unemployed workers even worse.

As of July 9, more than 90,000 Michiganians and 2 million Americans nationwide have lost their unemployment benefits.

These workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own in a recession of historic proportions. They number in the millions. They compete with five fellow citizens for every available job. They got a pink slip, and now some in Congress are giving them a cold shoulder.

Recently, the House voted to extend emergency unemployment insurance to these vulnerable Americans struggling to find work and make ends meet. The Senate has tried repeatedly to bring an extension to a vote, but each time it has been blocked by Senate Republicans.

Sadly, this kind of out-of-touch thinking on the economy is being seen too often. You may have heard the remarks of Congressman John Boehner, the House Republican leader, on the heels of the House passing a groundbreaking Wall Street Reform bill, Rep. Boehner likened the legislation — and the economic crisis it addressed — to “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.”

Think about that.

Millions of Americans are unable to find work. Millions more are struggling desperately to keep their homes. Our middle class way of life is slowly slipping away. Wall Street abuses and fraud — both well-known and yet-to-be investigated — were a substantial contributor to this crisis.

And Congressman Boehner likened all of this to a mere ant.

But there were other words uttered, words that should also be heard.

From Madison Heights: “My husband was awarded $1,050 before taxes from unemployment. After making a car (payment), paying utilities, car insurance, and buying groceries for our family of five, there is little nothing left over. ... My family is not living large, we are surviving. Cutting unemployment will take us out of survival mode and put us into homeless mode. ... After working 20+ years, this is the first time that we have asked for unemployment...”

From Southfield: “I have been out of work since February this year. Also, I have a master’s degree and still can’t obtain work. … It is very difficult as you can imagine. I have been employed in my career for 15 years and I have never been without a job for no more than two weeks at the most.”

These are the stories of everyday Americans — people who work hard, play by the rules, and ask for little more than government to be there when they need it.

They open their mouths and share their stories, but unlike John Boehner, when they talk, there aren’t microphones around. They don’t read about themselves in the headlines or see their faces on the evening news.

But theirs are the stories that matter.

Theirs are the stories that I am determined to bring back to Washington.

Theirs are the stories I hope convince the Republicans to end this dangerous blockade of unemployment insurance.

As outrageous as Boehner’s comments are, the biggest outrage is the story that those unemployed Americans are forced to live.

And unless the Senate acts now, it’s a story that even more Americans will be living in the weeks and months ahead.

Congressman Sander Levin represents the 12th District of Michigan and is chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over unemployment insurance.