Stop cruel cut off of benefits

Nov 10, 2011 Issues: Economy

Families have a lot on their minds right now. On the positive side, kids are settling into school schedules and extracurricular activities, hunting season starts next week, and the holidays are right around the corner. On the concerning side, 520,000 Michiganders are out of work, and each is competing with five other applicants for every job opening in the Midwest.

If Republicans in Congress fail to join in acting before the end of the year, individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own will begin losing their unemployment insurance in January. By mid-February, 2.1 million Americans will have their benefits cut off, including 81,000 in our state.

Congress has never allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was anywhere close to its current level of 9.1%, and we should not start now.

I support the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2011 to extend the current federal unemployment insurance programs through next year. Not only will this extension provide vital assistance to the unemployed, it also will promote economic recovery.

The Congressional Budget Office has declared that unemployment benefits are "both timely and cost-effective in spurring economic activity and employment," and the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that preventing unemployment benefits from expiring could prevent the loss of more than 500,000 jobs. Passing this legislation could prevent a human tragedy of enormous proportions.

In addition to continuing the federal unemployment insurance programs for a year, the legislation would provide some immediate assistance to states grappling with insolvency within their own unemployment insurance programs. The legislation would relieve states from interest payments on federal loans for a year and place a one-year moratorium on higher federal unemployment taxes that are imposed on employers in states with outstanding loans.

According to preliminary estimates, these solvency provisions will stop $5 billion in tax hikes on employers in nearly two dozen states, as well as provide $1.5 billion in interest relief. Michigan employers will see $237 million in federal tax relief, and the state could save about $1 million in interest payments.

This relief is vital to Michigan because we experienced the recession before the rest of the nation. So far this year, this essential program has provided Michigan jobless workers with $2.4 billion in essential assistance. But this assistance is just barely enough to keep families going. The average weekly benefit in Michigan has dropped to $288 a week, 33% less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Imagine if all of the unemployed were able to come to Washington. The line of Americans standing shoulder-to-shoulder would extend from the Capitol to Sioux Falls, S.D. This crucial economic testimony needs to be heard.

I have started a Web site -- a link to which is on -- to collect the stories of American workers fighting for survival. Please lend your voice to all the others -- don't let your voice go unheard.