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President Obama Pushes for Up-or-Down Vote on Help for Our Laid Off Friends & Neighbors

The President calls on Senate Republicans to stop using parliamentary maneuvers to block an extension of unemployment benefits for those laid off during this economic downturn.

The President opened his remarks today describing some of the people he is focused on as he deals with the economy every day:

Right now, across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, they’re scanning the classifieds, they’re updating their resumes or sending out another job application, hoping that this time they’ll hear back from a potential employer. And they’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will entirely free them of those worries –- the only thing that will fully lift that sense of uncertainty –- is the security of a new job.

The warnings surrounding America’s economic free fall when the President came into office were grave – “another Great Depression” was one common refrain.  It’s undoubtedly good news that those dire warnings are all but forgotten now, as the Recovery Act and other tough choices from the Obama Administration brought us back from the brink, but there is no question that the difficulties facing millions of America’s workers – through no fault of their own – are nothing short of tragic.

That’s why it’s not only imperative to pass the job creation programs the President has supported, such as small business tax cuts and support for the clean energy economy, but to extend unemployment insurance to those still struggling to find work. These are our friends and neighbors, who find themselves in the same situation so many of us have at some point in our lives if we were out of work during a tough economic time – seemingly endless applicants for every job, where even a final round interview seems like hitting the lottery.  And that leaves out the fact that because these benefits go to people who will immediately spend them and put them back into the economy, there is wide consensus that it is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy.

And yet, as the President explained, Republicans in the Senate have taken a different perspective in justifying their blocking of unemployment insurance to help our neighbors stay afloat – that is their fault, and they are simply not looking hard enough for work. They say this even as they consistently attack the President over the state of the economy. They claim we cannot afford to extend the benefits, even as they push for massive, permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to be put on the national credit card:

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition –- under both Democratic and Republican Presidents –- to offer relief to the unemployed.  That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits.  But right now, these benefits –- benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work -– are in jeopardy. 

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried  -– not once, not twice, but three times –- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis.  Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief.  These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings –- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they’re not looking for a handout.  They desperately want to work.  Just right now they can’t find a job.  These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now -- and I hope we seize it.  It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.  It’s time to do what’s right -- not for the next election but for the middle class.


As described in the background sent out from the White House, the President was joined by three people typifying the kind of Americans this help will go to – see if they don’t remind you of people you know in your community:

  • Jim Chukalas, from Fredon Township, NJ, was laid off as a parts manager at a Honda dealership in 2008. He ran out of Tier III benefits and his Tier IV expired two weeks ago because Congress has failed to act.  Jim has persistently searched for work and fights to keep his spirits up for his family’s sake.
  • Leslie Macko, from Charlottesville, VA, lost her job as an aesthetician in 2009.  She received, and exhausted, Virginia unemployment compensation benefits.  She has also exhausted her Tier I benefits and had 4.9 weeks of Tier II EUC for which she is eligible.  However, there has been a 6-week delay in the Tier II benefits and once she receives these benefits, she will not be eligible for additional unemployment insurance.  She has persistently searched for work, and continues to do so.  To pay her rent, utilities, food, and other expenses she has had to borrow money from her father on a monthly basis. 
  • Denise Gibson from Queens, NY, was laid off as a maintenance supervisor in January and has been receiving unemployment insurance benefits since February.  She will receive the benefits only until August unless the extension is passed.  She is currently late on her rent and due back in housing court in early August.  She is interviewing for jobs and has plans to go to nursing school later this year.