Rian Van Leuven: Urge Congress to extend lifeline for jobless workers

January 24, 2014 

Imagine getting laid off from your job and struggling to support your family. How will you make rent or keep up with your mortgage payment? How will you buy groceries and pay the utility bills? In other words, how will you stay afloat while looking for a new job? Thankfully, unemployment benefits are a safety net to help workers meet their basic financial obligations while looking for work in a tough economy. They help ensure that a temporary hardship doesn’t spiral into a long-term trap.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, this frightening scenario has hit close to home for many Idaho families. It was just a few years ago that our economy was brought to its knees and tens of thousands of workers found themselves out of a job and out of luck. The economic crisis was not only deep, but it lasted far longer than anybody expected.

Even now, the recovery is slow going. According to White House data, unemployment benefits have allowed more than 100,000 Idahoans since 2008 to stay on their feet until they found their next job and started receiving a paycheck again.

While many portray unemployment insurance as a hand-out, the truth is that jobless workers must demonstrate that they are constantly searching for work to receive unemployment benefits. The benefits themselves are very modest, averaging just $266 a week in Idaho.

Unfortunately, funding for this vital lifeline for jobless workers expired on Dec. 28, and benefits that kept millions out of poverty vanished in the midst of a weak economy, in which nearly three jobless workers apply for each job opening. For the families of these job seekers, unemployment benefits mean keeping a roof overhead and food on the table.

Ensuring these families could make ends meet benefited all Americans, not just those who lost their jobs during the recession. Unemployment benefits have been a vital component of creating jobs, sustaining consumer spending, and getting the economy back on track, allowing families to keep paying their bills and preventing a weak economy from going into a deeper tailspin.

By not extending unemployment benefits now, we are robbing businesses of customers and costing the country more than 240,000 jobs. As the year goes on, the consequences will grow worse when benefits for 3.6 million Americans are scheduled to expire.

Idaho’s working families must demand that Congress create good jobs and restore opportunity by growing the economy from the middle class out. Members of Congress have a chance to do the right thing by restoring unemployment benefits as they return to work this month.

Idaho families should urge Congressmen Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson and Sens. Risch and Crapo to show leadership and vote to extend unemployment benefits for the hardest-hit. Our economy cannot afford for them not to.

Van Leuven is the president of the Idaho State AFL-CIO, which represents over 11,000 union members in Idaho.

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