Wyden, Merkley Urge Sen. Reid to Make Extending Unemployment/COBRA a Priority

Wyden, Merkley Urge Sen. Reid to Make Extending Unemployment/COBRA a Priority

Oregon Senators Send Letter to Majority Leader Seeking Action After President’s Day Recess


Washington, D.C. –
With more and more Americans out of work, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) today asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make extending expiring unemployment and COBRA benefits a priority when the Senate returns from recess next week.  These benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans who currently rely on them for income and health care while they look for employment.

“Allowing these vital benefits to expire will only dampen and delay the economic recovery that Congress has worked to generate over the past year,” Wyden and Merkley wrote in the letter. “An extension of these benefits, on the other hand, will pump resources directly into local economies.”

Provisions passed last year that extended unemployment benefits and expanded eligibility for COBRA subsidies are set to expire on February 28, 2010 and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund (TANF ECF) is scheduled to expire in September. These programs provide financial support for millions of Americans without employment or health insurance. Wyden and Merkley argue in the letter that allowing these extensions to expire will “pull the safety net” out from under families who rely on the support they provide. The Oregon senators called for the immediate extension of these three projects and expressed disappointment that a one-week extension of UI benefits and COBRA eligibility were not agreed upon prior to the President’s Day recess.

“We hope that this critical legislation will be promptly passed when Senators return from their states, and we pledge to work with you and our colleagues to the job done for American workers,” Wyden and Merkley continued in the letter. “We believe strongly that extending these benefits is in the best interest of our country and its citizens, and we urge you to act swiftly upon the Senate’s return from recess.”

Text of the letter is available below:

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

We are writing to ask that you make extending unemployment insurance (UI) and other expiring benefits such as COBRA subsidies and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund (TANF ECF), one of the first orders of business when the Senate returns from the Presidents’ Day recess. 

As you know, millions of people across the country depend on UI, COBRA, and TANF ECF benefits as they look desperately for work.  Provisions that extended UI benefits and expanded eligibility for COBRA subsidies are set to expire on February 28, 2010.  As the deadline nears, state agencies will begin to send out notices for the termination of benefits, re-program their benefit systems, and develop contingency plans for handling claimants whose benefits are terminated.  If Congress does not act to extend benefits now, agencies that administer benefits and families who depend on them will have these essential safety nets pulled out from under them.

While the TANF ECF does not expire until September 30, 2010, states need to see action from Congress now as they prepare budget decisions for the year.  States are using the ECF dollars the way Congress intended:  for subsidized job programs, cash benefits, and employment-related day care.  These benefits have made an enormous difference for out-of-work Americans and for those seeking jobs.  However, unless Congress acts soon to extend the ECF, states will begin to eliminate these programs now. 

We greatly appreciate your efforts to pass legislation to create jobs and to help unemployed workers.  We were deeply disappointed by the objections before the President’s Day recess to your unanimous consent requests to pass not only a jobs bill, but also to pass a one-week extension of UI benefits and COBRA eligibility.  We hope that this critical legislation will be promptly passed when Senators return from their states, and we pledge to work with you and our colleagues to get the job done for American workers.

In the meantime, we urge you to make an extension of UI, COBRA, and the TANF ECF one of the Senate’s first priorities.  Allowing these vital benefits to expire will only dampen and delay the economic recovery that Congress has worked to generate over the past year.  An extension of these benefits, on the other hand, will pump resources directly into local economies.  We believe strongly that extending these benefits is in the best interest of our country and its citizens, and we urge you to act swiftly upon the Senate’s return from recess.

Thank you for your consideration.