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Doggett: Jobless Need Another Extension of Benefits

“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it,” Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol.” So, too, would some like to turn out the lights on those Americans currently unemployed, through no fault of their own, who confront an end to the support upon which they rely.

I hope that before the House recesses, my bill, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, is allowed to come to the floor for a vote.

With 6.5 million fewer jobs in the economy today than when the Great Recession began in December 2007, too many families face a dark holiday season. Those opposing this extension might see the light when they learn that there are more than four unemployed Americans for every available job in this country.

Blaming the victims of a struggling economy is no way to build a recovery. Nearly 6 million individuals will lose their benefits in 2012 if Congress fails to extend jobless benefits.

While the unemployed will bear the direct and immediate burden of a loss in support, the misery will ripple through our economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, cutting off unemployment benefits would also cost more than 500,000 jobs, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has declared that unemployment benefits are “both timely and cost-effective in spurring economic activity and employment.”

But some Republicans still insist we cannot afford to maintain assistance for the unemployed. The same crowd that continues to shill for big tax breaks for the wealthiest few while preserving multinational corporate tax loopholes argues that helping the unemployed is just too high a mountain for our country to climb.

Those people also argue that unemployment benefits encourage workers to sit on the couch instead of look for a job. Never mind that unemployment insurance replaces less than half of a worker’s former wages and the average unemployment check fails to get a family of four above 70 percent of the poverty level.

On Wednesday, dozens of activists and concerned citizens, including several unemployed workers, will gather with Members of the House and Senate to call on Republican leadership to extend unemployment insurance now. Congress has never allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire when the unemployment rate is anywhere close to its current level of 9.1 percent. While our belts should be tightened, it should not be done around the necks of the unemployed.

As Congress debates my bill, I hope it doesn’t recall just the numbers but the real people behind them, people like Lynnette, an unemployed worker — “I’m 50 now. It’s the first time I’ve drawn unemployment in my life. I’m tired, I’m demoralized. It was extremely hard for me to get where I was. I strived and fought and suffered. I paid more than my share of dues. I did everything I was supposed to do. … Please extend the benefits. Please be aware that this country didn’t suddenly become filled with lazy folks who don’t want to work.”

Americans don’t turn their backs on other Americans in need. The time to extend this critical lifeline to so many families is now.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

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