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Extending unemployment insurance is the right choice

By Sen. Jay Rockefeller

We all make choices, every day. Most are pretty easy. Will I pack my lunch or grab take out? Will I wear my blue tie or my red one?

But today, nearly 7,000 West Virginians are facing much more difficult choices. Will I pay the electric bill or the gas bill? Will I buy groceries for my family's dinner or will I purchase my monthly blood pressure medicine?

Those are choices no one should ever have to make. But because Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits for more than one million Americans, those are precisely the choices many are facing today.

It reminds me of the story of Katherine Hackett, who shared her story with the country earlier this week. The mother of two military veterans, Ms. Hackett sets her thermostat to 58 degrees; wears a coat inside her home; and has cut back on her monthly food budget so much that she's lost 15 pounds. All because she's lost her emergency unemployment benefits. Responding to critics of extending benefits, Ms. Hackett said, "I am not just sitting at home living the good life."

Emergency unemployment insurance is a lifeline for Katherine Hackett -- and for so many in West Virginia. While our economy is improving, the recovery has been slow and there are still millions of men and women diligently looking for a job. We've never eliminated emergency unemployment insurance with this many people out of work, and it's unfathomable to do so now.

Yet that's exactly what happened as 2013 drew to a close. Some in Congress blocked efforts to extend emergency unemployment insurance into the new year, threatening our economic recovery and putting families at risk. What's more, the loss of these benefits threatens the ability of people who are unemployed to look for work. Without this modest -- and critically important -- income, people who are unemployed don't have the resources to get to job interviews; to keep their phones turned on so potential employers can reach them; or pay for extra training that might make them stand out in a crowded job market.

This week, I voted to move a bill forward that would extend emergency Unemployment Insurance for three months. It's a sensible policy that recognizes not only our moral obligation to those who need help, but also the fact that extending emergency Unemployment Insurance stimulates economic growth. It's a win-win policy. We need to pass this bill without delay.

Millions of American families are counting on us to take action and pass this sensible legislation.


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