Too many Americans are still struggling to find work in dismal job markets across this country. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high at 6.7 percent and the number of Americans participating in the labor force has now dropped to levels not seen since the Carter Administration.
On December 28, 2013, the federal emergency unemployment insurance program (UI) expired, leaving approximately two million long-term unemployed Americans without federal UI benefits. Although state benefits of up to 26 weeks remain available to those who are unemployed, we believe that the need remains to responsibly extend the federal program, which was never intended to continue indefinitely.
On April 7, the U.S. Senate approved a short term extension of the expired Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program until May 31, 2014. This approach would amount to merely a two month extension, most of the coverage provided would be retroactive, meaning Congress would find ourselves right back in the very same place, having the same conversations, several weeks from now. Providing short term relief for workers and setting up repeated votes on unemployment may be good politics for some, but it is bad policy for American workers.
We believe there is a better way to help those who are unemployed and struggling to pay the bills while addressing the underlying problem: the lack of job opportunities for many hardworking Americans.
That is why we have introduced HR 3885, the GROWTH (Generating Real Opportunities for Workers and Transitional Help) Act. This legislation meets the need for continued emergency unemployment compensation while simultaneously promoting job creation and preserving current jobs and wages.
The GROWTH Act provides for a full year, retroactive extension of Tier I of EUC; responsibly restructuring the program to 14 weeks of federal benefits on top of the existing 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation for a combined total of 10 months. This approach prudently continues the practice of scaling back the number of weeks available under the federal EUC as unemployment rates gradually decline. At the height of the recession, combined state and federal EUC benefits extended for nearly two years (99 weeks).
While temporarily extending unemployment benefits is necessary for those most in need, we must not lose sight of the real goal ó getting Americans back to work. Specifically, the GROWTH Act would approve construction of the long awaited Keystone XL pipeline, creating 42,100 direct and indirect jobs. It repeals the presidentís job-destroying medical device tax, saving as many as 43,000 manufacturing jobs. The bill will also codify into law the 40-hour work week rather than the 30-hour figure in the presidentís health care law, which, if not changed, will result in slashed hours and reduced wages.
This is both a responsible and conservative solution, which highlights the need for policies to spur real economic recovery while assisting families who are struggling through difficult times.