(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a speech on the Senate floor to urge Senate Republicans to join with Democrats in coming to the assistance of job-seekers whose unemployment benefits have been cut off. Many unemployed workers, including thousands in Washington state saw their benefits lapse on April 5th, after Senate Republicans blocked a proposal by Democrats to pass an emergency extension at the end of March. The Senate is now considering another extension that would provide job-seekers with the benefits they need to continue looking for work, will help them support their families, and will continue to stimulate economic recovery.
The full text of Senator Murray’s speech is below:
Unemployed Workers Have Had the Rug Pulled Out
Mr. President, last Sunday at midnight thousands of individuals in my home state of Washington - who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own - had the rug pulled out from under them.
That’s because these men and women who, wake up each day to scan the classified ads, send out resumes, and travel to interview after interview had the unemployment benefits they count on...suddenly cut off.
And in losing that critical support, they lost an important source of security, the help they need to stay in their homes or make rent, and the stability that allows them to continue to afford to look for work.
Frustration from Job Seekers
Mr. President, over the last two weeks I traveled throughout my state talking to constituents, discussing our economy, and working to support job creation efforts.
And I have to say the frustration is clear – it is written on the faces of many in my state who can’t seem to get a break. Who have come close to being hired, but who have been told that the time is just not right - that they should come back next month or even next year.
These struggling job seekers don’t hold back when describing what they continue to face: It’s an emergency. An emergency that affects their ability to pay bills, their ability to put food on the table, and their ability to keep their job search going.
An emergency that time and again we have worked to respond to. But one that - time and again – we have faced opposition on.
Republicans Putting Politics Before People
Mr. President, before we left for recess we had an opportunity to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. To respond to the emergency in our job market and to avoid the uncertainty that job seekers across the country now face.
Democrats put an unemployment extension on the table – a proposal similar to extensions we have done routinely in difficult times – and as we all know times have seldom been more difficult. But as has become an all too familiar story – those on the other side of the aisle said no.
And instead put obstruction before assistance, politics before people, and point scoring before the needs of those who have lost their jobs.
Mr. President, this week we have a chance to make things right.
The legislation that we are trying so hard to pass this week is very straight forward. This bill will get unemployment insurance to millions of struggling families who rely on it to meet basic needs, to pay their mortgage, or to afford school.
It will restore the safety net that is critical to keeping our economy stable. It will give those looking for jobs the means to afford to keep looking for them. It will keep our economic turnaround on course. And it’s aimed at helping real families with the real problems they face every day.
But make no mistake, Mr. President, the consequences of not reaching a compromise and passing this bill are just as real.
Families Are Watching How We Respond
Today, families in every single one of our states are sitting around their kitchen tables trying to figure out how they’ll make it through the weeks and months ahead without these payments.
Often times they’ve spent their day calling employers, going to another job fair with long lines and few opportunities, and filling out job applications.
These families are looking to us to for help in their time of crisis. But every evening these same families turn on the nightly news and hear another story about gridlock in our nation’s capital.
They see a Senate that is forced to jump through procedural hoops and endure endless delay tactics to get even emergency legislation passed. They see politics clouding policy. They see obstruction impeding progress. And, you know what, they’re sick of it.
So Mr. President, today I urge us to come together and move forward with the same urgency that those who have lost their unemployment have.
That we join together the way we did to pass The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or fair pay for women in the workplace, or small business tax cuts. That we restore the faith of the American people. And that we pass this critical extension.
Unemployment Not Enough - Job Creation Efforts
But Mr. President, for those who are fighting to get back to work and to support their families once again – unemployment can’t be enough.
We also need to be taking every step we can to improve the job market unemployed workers wake up to face each morning. Because while there have certainly been signs of improvement - we still have so much that we need to do.
And I believe that work starts with helping our small businesses - the heart and soul of our economy. Mr. President, growing up, my dad ran a Five and Ten Cent store on Main Street – yes, actual Main Street – in Bothell, Washington.
All 6 of my brothers and sisters and I worked there. We swept floors, stocked shelves, and worked the register. And when small businesses like ours struggled, we felt it. We saw it in the till at the end of the day - in the families struggling to afford groceries. Small business were the economic engine of Main Street then, and they still are today.
But what I hear time and time again today is that while Wall Street is doing better – Main Street is still struggling. And that the small community banks – a major source of capital in all of our communities – aren’t lending.
And when small banks – the life lines of small businesses – don’t lend, then credit isn’t flowing, businesses aren’t hiring, and recovery isn’t coming to Main Street.
That’s why I’ve introduced legislation that would redirect TARP dollars to buy toxic assets – like bad mortgages – off the books of our community banks to help free up credit and get them lending to small businesses again. We’ve done enough for Wall Street – it’s past time we concentrate on helping our small businesses and local employers.
Easing the Tax Burden on Small Businesses
Mr. President, another way to help improve local job markets and all those looking for work is to lessen the tax burden on our small businesses so they can afford to hire new workers.
Over the recess, I talked to the owners of local bakeries, hotels, marketing companies, and more from throughout my state. And they all told me the same thing.
They want to hire and expand - they even see new opportunities - but the risks right now are just too great. What they need from us is certainty and security.
And I told them that we are working to provide them with just that. I told them that health care reform includes a 35% tax credit that small business owners can receive immediately to help them cover their workers. I encouraged them to hire unemployed workers that have been out of work more than 60 days because they would now receive an exemption from payroll taxes for those employees. I told them that now is the time to make big purchases because we have worked to pass legislation that will allow them to write those purchases off immediately. I told them that we have worked to ensure the Small Business Administration is increasing local lending efforts.
But I also told them that there is more to accomplish and that they need to be the focus of recovery efforts from this point on.
Health Care Workforce
Mr. President, another central tenant of improving the job market is included in the historic health care reform legislation we passed into law last month.
As we all know, that bill greatly expands access to care in communities all across the nation.
But what has gone less noticed, is that that the bill also greatly expands access to health care careers to help meet the new demand.
As the Senator in the HELP Committee responsible for the health care workforce section of the bill, I worked to ensure we made numerous investments to create and sustain good-paying health care jobs. Our bill includes incentives like loan repayment programs, scholarships, and grants to encourage students to go into high-need fields and to work in underserved areas.
And it invests in education, training, and retention efforts not just for new health care workers, but for those already providing quality care across the country.
Because investments in our health care workforce create jobs, ease the strain on overworked health professionals, and keep Americans healthy so they can be productive on the job.
And finally Mr. President, I believe we need to pay particular attention to efforts to hire our nation’s heroes – our veterans.
Right now the unemployment rate for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is over 21 percent. More than one in five of the men and women who return from the battlefield come home only to have to fight to find work.
These are disciplined, technically skilled, and determined workers who nonetheless have been left to stand at the back of the line or have their resume lost in the stack.
Over the last two weeks, I talked to unemployed veterans in my state about just what it is that is keeping from finding work - and what they told me was shocking.
Many veterans told me that they sometimes leave off the fact that they are veterans from their resume because employers look at it as a negative rather than a positive - because of the stigma of the invisible wounds of war.
National Guard members talked of coming home to find they had been laid off because their job no longer existed at the company they left behind to serve our country. Others told me that Pentagon and VA transition programs simply aren’t working.
And that they struggle to have employers understand how the technical skills they learned in the military will translate to help them in the civilian working world. What I heard was unacceptable and it must change immediately.
That’s why next week I will be introducing a bill that will take a look at why these skills aren’t translating. That helps veterans get into apprenticeships and careers where they will excel. That will improve the military and civilian transition process. And that will set up a Veterans Business Center within the Small Business Administration to help our veterans get the skills and resources to start their own businesses.
Keeping Workers Afloat
Mr. President, this week we have a chance to keep unemployed workers afloat.
An unemployment extension is a lifeline. It is a lifeline that will allow unemployed workers to continue pursuing every job opportunity and to support their families.
But ultimately, we need to get these workers into the boat. We need to get them into good, stable jobs.
And that means supporting our community banks, reducing the tax burden on small businesses, and expanding opportunities for health care workers and our returning heroes.
As I said earlier, the American people are watching this body. They want to see the same urgency they feel every day.
They want to know that their dinner table debates are our floor debates. That creating jobs is our number one priority. And that we will be at the back of those who are trying so hard to get back to work.
Mr. President, I urge everyone to come together to pass this important extension of unemployment benefits and to put politics aside in the weeks and months ahead to help create job opportunities.