Levin Floor Statement on H.J.Res.42

Feb 15, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) today delivered the following remarks on the House Floor in opposition to H.J.Res.42, a bill that would disapprove of an Obama Administration regulation authorizing drug-testing for unemployment insurance beneficiaries:

(Remarks as delivered)

“Mr. Speaker, at the onset of the Great Recession, our unemployment insurance system was completely inadequate.  Democrats took the lead, against increasing Republican opposition, to improve the system and to provide unemployment benefits to Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

“The result was an emergency federal unemployment compensation program, which helped more than 24 million people.  Research from a broad array of experts shows these federal UI benefits, in combination with state-provided benefits, saved more than 2 million jobs, prevented 1.4 million home foreclosures, and kept an estimated 5 million Americans out of poverty.  In short, a strong unemployment insurance system helped prevent the Great Recession from turning into another Great Depression. 

“Today, our unemployment insurance system is again inadequate and totally unprepared to respond to a future recession.  And once again, rather than stepping up with solutions, Republicans answer to working people with a cold shoulder.

“Instead of responding to the deterioration of our unemployment insurance system, Republicans today want to shame and blame Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, while also violating their constitutional rights.

“Here are the real problems this legislation completely ignores.

1.       Only one out of every four jobless Americans now receives unemployment benefits – near a record all-time low. 

2.       Eight states have cut back on the maximum number of weeks of benefits available for unemployed workers, including my home state of Michigan. 

3.       The value of UI benefits has declined over time, with 30 states now having maximum UI benefit amounts that are less half of the state’s average weekly wage.

4.       The triggers for the federally-funded extended benefits program (EB) are extremely out-of-date, so they do not turn on when unemployment begins to rise significantly. 

5.       Our nation’s UI system is under-funded, with only 18 states’ funds reaching a minimum level of adequate solvency according to a 2016 DOL report. 

6.       The federal UI trust funds, which support extended benefits during downturns in the economy, have a deficit of over $8 billion – hurt by the majority’s decision to allow part of the revenue stream to those funds to expire in 2011. 

7.       Our spending on workforce development as a percentage of GDP is now only one-seventh of its 1979 peak, and since 2010 Republicans in Congress have cut workforce education programs by $400 million.  So we are doing less to help the unemployed while they look for work and less to help them prepare for a new job.

“Today’s bill ignores these problems completely and instead attempts to demean those needing help.  In discouraging access to unemployment benefits, it reminds me of a massive problem we uncovered in Michigan that involved at least 20,000 (and perhaps many more) UI claimants being wrongly accused of fraud and ordered to pay huge penalties. 

“We should be focusing today on ensuring our UI system is ready for the next great challenge, not to mention helping Americans who are seeking work right now.  Instead, this majority has brought up this misguided bill, and I urge all Members to oppose it.”