We Must Extend Unemployment Benefits to Help Working Families

We’ve got the chance on the floor of this chamber to come and debate issues important to the success of our families across this nation.  There are some who will come to this floor and they will argue that we should do everything possible to help the most successful, that we should do everything possible to help the most powerful, we should do everything possible to help the wealthiest – those who already have secured the American dream.  They have it in their hand.  But I come tonight to argue a different case, that we should put our energy behind helping the working families of this nation.  Families that are struggling in an economy where jobs have been disappearing left and right, where families are looking for work but there’s multiple applicants for each and every job, where someone may be clinging to a job and then losing it when another firm goes under.

Now, I am delighted that we have arrested the slide into another Great Depression.  We didn’t know a year ago whether we were going to see every single month at one percent increase in unemployment until we were at 25 percent unemployment or 30 percent unemployment.  And so we did what we could to break that cycle, and it has been broken.  But we remain at a very high level of unemployment – 10 -plus on average across this country and much higher in my home state of Oregon.  I have Crook County in Central Oregon, 17 percent unemployment.  Harney County, nearly 16 percent unemployment. Deschutes County, 15 percent unemployment.  Josephine, 14 and a half and so forth.  Folks are struggling and I’ve been hearing a lot of stories from people back home, and I thought I’d share a couple of those stories tonight, to put a face on the challenge.

“Dear Jeff: I have worked for 42 years and will lose my unemployment benefits after six months without your help.  I have three girls in college and unemployment benefits are helping to keep us current on basic needs.  We need your help in the Senate.  This is our only lifeline.  Please convince your fellow senators to do the right thing for everyday families and not throw us under the bus.”

That’s Mike from Happy Valley.  And when Mike is saying “don’t throw us under the bus,” he is saying, don’t spend your time and energy helping the already successful, the wealthy and the powerful. Strengthen the financial foundations of our working families, and before us tonight is a key measure in that, which is the extension of unemployment benefits for families who are working, doing everything right.  Let me share another story:

“Dear Senator Merkey: I have now been without unemployment benefits since May 16.  I have been unable to buy food, gas or pay bills.  My son is home from college for the summer, and I can’t provide for him either.  There are essentially no jobs in central Oregon.  I apply daily.  I would go to work tomorrow, given the opportunity.  Thank you.”
That’s Donald writing to me from Redmond.  He has been without the ability to buy food, gas or pay bills since May 16.  Extension of unemployment benefits is a very real method to help families when we’re in times of great economic distress.

Now, it’s intriguing to me that my colleagues across the aisle, they want to take away from the job-creation efforts to pay for help to those who are unemployed.  In other words, they want to create more unemployed in order to pay unemployment benefits.

Now, let’s step back and realize that it is the policies of my colleagues across the aisle that created this economic crisis.  They deregulated Wall Street; they allowed the leverage of major financial firms to double in a single year.  Bear Stearns went from 20-to-1 leverage to 40-to-1 leverage in a single year. They allowed retail mortgages to become a form of scam upon working families with pre-payment penalties and steering payments, which is a very polite term for payments that were made to brokers so they will sell a mortgage that is wrong for the family but which creates a big bonus for themselves.  They allowed the corruption of the most important financial document essential to building the financial foundations of our families.  They allowed Wall Street to proceed to put those into securities and poison all of the financial foundations of the firms that bought those securities.  All this built a house of cards.  It came down.  And now they want to take away in job creation as a way of saying, “Well, we do care about the people we are unemployed. We’re just going to create more unemployed in the process.”

The logic of that escapes me.

I’ll submit more stories for the record, and it is an honor to come and say we need to do right by working families in America and we need to not do it by creating more unemployment.