Today is Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's Time for a Permanent Fix to Our Unemployment Woes

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Over the past few weeks, we have heard President Obama and Congressional Democrats talk at length about our country’s weak jobs numbers and slow economic growth. I agree with them—too many people remain out of work in the Obama economy and our labor force participation rate remains at its lowest level since the Carter era. For every Tennessean unable to find a job, it is a personal crisis for them and their family. They should be able to trust that their elected leaders in Congress would advocate on their behalf during these difficult times.

Unfortunately, instead of working toward long-term solutions that would actually grow our economy and put Americans back to work, the Democrat majority in Washington is advocating for an unfunded, temporary patch to our unemployment troubles by pushing for the passage of a $6.5 billion extension of the emergency unemployment insurance (EUI) program. This “temporary” relief package has been in place since July of 2008 and, at its peak, allowed eligible individuals to collect up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. 

I recognize the importance of a strong safety net to help those who are out of work through no fault of their own. That is why I voted to extend EUI in the past and, as a state legislator, supported a modest increase in weekly compensation for unemployment recipients in Tennessee. But as Congress debates the possibility of yet another extension of this “emergency” program—more than five years after it was first enacted—we should remember the words of President Ronald Reagan when he warned that “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

Even without the EUI program in place, many states, including Tennessee, allow jobseekers to collect up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Most of us would agree that these first six months of assistance are an important lifeline for those who are between jobs, but allowing these benefits to continue over the long term does nothing to help Americans get back to work, adds to our mounting debt that will be passed along to our children, and according to a recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, could actually make unemployment worse.

As a small business owner, I know that the best unemployment program is a job. That is why I have supported the passage of more than a dozen pro-growth jobs bills in Congress to streamline our workforce development programs, increase U.S. offshore energy production, and offer regulatory relief to our small businesses. If the Senate Democrat majority truly wanted to help their constituents get back to work, they could hold a vote on any of these House-passed bills today but, sadly, each of these items of legislation remain stuck on Harry Reid’s desk awaiting a vote.   

At a time when our country is $17.3 trillion in debt, an unfunded extension of the EUI program without provisions to help Americans reenter the work force is not compassionate, it is immoral. It is time for President Obama and Congressional Democrats to stop grandstanding on the backs on our nation’s unemployed and join Republicans in working to deliver what our economy needs most: jobs.

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Congressman Diane Black
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