After Failing to Renew Unemployment Insurance, Congress Is a Culprit in Foreclosure Crisis | Commentary

Posted June 20, 2014 at 9:00am

In the immediate aftermath of the nation’s 2008 foreclosure crisis, Congress played a constructive role in keeping Americans in their homes. Lawmakers supported loan modification programs and sweeping financial reforms, and — while many rightfully demanded more action — these efforts eased the effects of the crisis.

Today, the lingering effects of predatory lending and the Great Recession mean that foreclosures remain a serious problem in communities around the country. But, in the national fight to stop foreclosures, one crucial fact has changed: Congress is now a culprit.

By failing to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits, House GOP leaders have unnecessarily thrust millions of Americans into financial hardship and many, in turn, into foreclosure.

Congress must again be part of the solution.

Lawmakers should immediately extend emergency UI benefits. But, if House GOP leaders continue their obstruction, the absolute least lawmakers can do is pass a measure to direct the Federal Housing Finance Agency to impose a six month moratorium on foreclosures for individuals who have lost UI due to congressional inaction.

Because of the GOP’s termination of the federal emergency UI program, more than 2.2 million Americans, including more than 200,000 veterans, have lost access to an essential lifeline that’s rightfully theirs. Unemployment insurance is not a handout. Americans who lost their jobs in one of the toughest job markets in memory have largely paid into the emergency compensation program through payroll taxes.

There’s simply no valid economic argument for failing to renew UI. The Census Bureau estimates that these benefits enabled 2.5 million people to get out of poverty in 2012 and enabled more than 11 million to do so since 2008. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, restoring benefits would result in 200,000 additional jobs this year by increasing consumer demand. The logic is simple: When unemployed Americans receive income, they spend it. When they can go out and purchase their necessities, they boost the economy and promote job creation. All this boosts tax revenue and reduces deficits.

When you factor in the foreclosures that result from people unexpectedly losing their basic UI income, the social and economic impacts are immeasurably greater. Foreclosure and evictions are not only responsible for massive anxiety and suffering but also downward spirals in property values and tax revenue.

Restoring UI is not just a matter of sound policy making. It’s a matter of basic decency.

While the Senate has done what’s right by passing legislation to extend UI, House GOP leaders refuse to even allow a vote. If this intransigence continues, the director of the FHFA, Melvin Watt, can take matters into his own hands and impose a moratorium on foreclosures for Americans affected by the cutoff. Earlier this year, we, along with 74 of our colleagues, sent a letter requesting that he use his authority to do so.

Half a decade after the onset of the financial crisis, it’s unacceptable that tens of millions of Americans are still unemployed or desperately underemployed. Congress must — at the absolute least — keep these Americans from losing their homes.

Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Steven Horsford of Nevada are Democratic members of the House of Representatives.