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Conservatives Just Killed 240,000 Jobs

What do conservatives have against a program that put 240,000 people to work in the middle of an unemployment crisis?
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Conservatives in Congress just fired 240,000 American workers. Conservatives in Congress just killed 240,000 jobs. Conservatives in Congress just essentially added 240,000 more Americans to the ranks of the unemployed. However you frame it, people who want to work and have been working
are soon to be out of work, thanks to GOP Senators members who refused to reauthorize — even for three months — a stimulus program so successful it won praise from Republicans like Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.

At issue is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which should have been one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

Governors, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund "a stimulus program even a Republican can love."

Except, Republicans didn't love it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led the floor fight this week, and was even willing to accept a compromise: instead of a year-long extension that Democrats had requested, Durbin sought a three-month extension, at a cost of just $500 million, in order to keep the fund alive through the end of the year. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) refused to allow it.
"The majority has known this program was going to expire at the end of this month all year and has taken no steps to reauthorize this important social safety net program," said Enzi, who blocked Durbin's request for "unanimous consent" for a reauthorization.

They have been trying to kill this program for just as long as the Democrats in Congress have been trying to extend it.

Conservatives have chosen to increase the unemployment rolls, increase the welfare rolls, and increase the number of families in poverty on what basis? Based on what principle?

What do conservatives have against a program that put 240,000 people to work in the middle of an unemployment crisis? What do they have against the 240,000 people who wanted to work and were working until conservative obstruction killed their jobs?

I heard one of those 240,000 speak back in May, when congressional conservatives were already targeting TANF for elimination. His name was Charles Jenkins.

"I am a father," Charles Jenkins, 55, says by way of introducing himself, "and I have worked all of my adult life; more than 30 years. I am here testifying today because I need a job."

Employed by a as a driver for a transportation company, Jenkins was hospitalized in 2009 due to serious illness. Like too many American workers, Jenkins had no sick leave to fall back on, was was terminated. He began receiving unemployment benefits and food stamps.

Unemployed for nearly a year, Jenkins has applied for "10 to 12 jobs a week" without success. He has begun working as a community organizer in training at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, through the Targeted Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund subsidized employment program. That will end on September 30, and Jenkins will join the unemployed African-American men in Chicago and the more than 1.4 million unemployed African-American men across the country.

What do conservatives in Congress have against Charles Jenkins? What do they have against a man who has worked all of his life, and wants to work?

What do they have against a program that, by putting 240,000 people to work, created more jobs than a Republican White House and Congress created in eight years? When the "score" is 240,000 to zero, their solution is to erase the scoreboard.

What do conservatives have against the roughly 400 people in Perry County, TN, who found jobs thanks to TANF.

In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County's unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico.

If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs — the equivalent of another factory closing.

What do conservatives have against people like Perry County resident Brian Davis?

"It's very scary, because there's just no work," said Brian Davis, a 36-year-old father of four, who got a stimulus-subsidized job with the City of Lobelville after he lost his job of 17 years at an auto parts plant that shed hundreds of jobs. Now he faces the prospect of unemployment again.

"This was a huge help," Mr. Davis said. "The way the economy's been and the way people are struggling, you're worried about putting food on the table for your children and keeping the electricity on."

The money that pays Mr. Davis's salary, and the salaries of tens of thousands of other people around the country, will dry up after next Thursday, when the welfare program in the stimulus act that pays the bills for those jobs is set to expire. While the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want to extend the program, they are meeting stiff resistance from Republicans, many of whom oppose all things stimulus.

What do conservatives have against people like Jaquayla Burton, who will lose her first job at the insistence of Republicans in Congress?

Jaquayla Burton's job will end this week unless the Senate does an about-face and decides to preserve a welfare-to-work program that created more than 240,000 jobs as part of the stimulus bill.

"I wish they would because on Friday I'll have to sign up for unemployment. I don't feel good about that," said Burton, 20, in an interview with HuffPost. "It's hard because I have two kids to take care of. I've been working here nine months and it's kind of stable at home, and then on Friday I'll be unemployed."

Burton is one of six moms doing community outreach work for for the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition whose subsidized jobs will disappear on Sept. 30, said campaign co-director Karl Kramer. "We do community outreach to educate people about what their rights are under San Francisco's wage and benefit laws."

...Burton said her job as a community organizer with the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, which she's held for the past nine months, is the first she's ever had. [Campaign co-director Karl]Kramer said Burton and the five other moms at his nonprofit earn $11.03 per hour and work 32 hours a week. They will all be let go come Friday.

What do conservatives have against people in states like Alabama, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Tennessee (among others), who received help and got jobs where neither was available before?

Examples of the TANF Emergency Fund at work include:

  • South Carolina is using the program to provide jobs to parents who would otherwise be receiving cash assistance through the state's regular TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program.
  • Illinois has placed more than 20,000 individuals in jobs, far exceeding its original goal of 12,000 placements.
  • Alabama is using the program to provide jobs to TANF recipients statewide, but has found it especially helpful in rural communities where very few job opportunities exist.
  • North Dakota is providing jobs for unemployed non-custodial parents who don't have the financial resources to meet their child support
  • A rural community in Tennessee created 400 new jobs and helped reduce the county's unemployment rate from 27.3 to 18.6 percent over an eight-month period.

What do conservatives have against people like the eight moms and two dads employed by Diana Spatz's organization?

"They're telling the moms once the fund ends, you're going to have to work for free," Diana Spatz told HuffPost Friday in an interview. Spatz is the executive director of Lifetime, a California membership organization that helps low-income parents pursuing post-secondary education that employs eight moms and two dads thanks to the program. "They can work through the end of this month and then I think we're going to be able to keep two or three of them, but we aren't sure," she said.

What do they have against Debbie Verdale, one of the parents TANF helped Spatz's organization employ?

Debbie Velarde is one of more than 100,000 people who will lose their jobs by September unless Congress extends a stimulus bill provision that gives states funding to create jobs programs for low-income parents and young adults.

"I'll have to pay for everything and I don't have the means to do that," said Velarde, who earns $8 an hour through the program as an administrative assistant at Lifetime, a California membership organization that helps low-income parents pursuing post-secondary education. "They need to leave this program open a little longer."

These people are, or were, working when they would otherwise be on welfare. What's more, they are, or were, learning skills that will make them more employable and more attractive to employers.

At a time when nearly 44 million Americans live in poverty, conservatives in Congress are choosing to increase those numbers by phasing out a stimulus program that, as part of the whole stimulus, helped keep six Americans out of poverty. The recent poverty numbers didn't include the people who benefited from TANF, and other stimulus programs.

With some 14.9 million Americans unemployed, conservatives have seen fit to add more Americans to the ranks of the jobless.

Most likely, many of them will join those ranks too, unless Sharron Angle reveals where the jobs she says are out there happen to be located. But, then again, that's not in her job description (assuming she gets the job she seeks). It isn't in any conservative's job description to help Americans suffering in this economy. At least not those who makes less than $250,000 a year.

They would rather cut a program like TANF that's doing what the private-sector is not doing — at a profit, mind you — than spend $500 million to fund just through the end of the year. That's less than 1% of the $2.3 trillion cost of the tax cuts for the wealthy conservatives do want to extend.

(And a Merry Christmas, by the way, to those who had jobs through TANF, but will face the holidays without them now. Scrooge would be proud. TANF's demise starts a round of layoffs that will extend to the holidays. State and local governments are making efforts to replace the funding they will be losing, but state a local governments are already strapped, and have been for some time, making it impossible for them to sustain those efforts for long if at all.)

They would rather cling to policies that don't create jobs or growth, and have the "smallest bang for the buck," of any other options. Like John Boehner's "two step" job creation plan, that amounts to a long walk off a short economic pier by turning the clock back to the Bush era, with 10-year-old policies that didn't do work the way conservatives said they would.

Tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush were followed by increases in the saving rate among the rich, according to data from Moody's Analytics Inc. When taxes were raised under Bill Clinton, the saving rate fell.

...When tax legislation was signed by Clinton in 1993 -- raising the top tax rate to 39.6 percent from 31 percent -- the saving rate fell from 12.1 percent in the second quarter to 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 1994. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 1.9 percent from July through September, after little change the previous three months.

When the first Bush tax cuts were signed into law in June 2001, pushing the top rate down to 35 percent, the wealthy boosted savings. The saving rate climbed to 2.8 percent in the first quarter of 2002 from minus 2 percent in the second quarter of 2001. The increased savings coincided with a 1.1 percent decline in the S&P 500 index.

They prefer the above to helping middle and working class Americans who will spend, thus putting money back into the economy where it can be spent to support jobs and spur growth by increasing demand.

I'm Keri Fulton and I'm here with Chad Stone, the Center's Chief Economist, to discuss the jobs report for June.


2. What's needed to create jobs at this rate?

Stronger demand for goods and services. An effective jobs bill will move these numbers in the right direction. Unfortunately, hopes are fading fast for Congress to enact effective jobs measures. Too many lawmakers seem to think that their immediate priority should be the budget deficit rather than the jobs deficit.


4. How does the absence of a jobs bill hurt the recovery?

Unemployed workers won't have as much money to spend and will cut back their purchases. States will have to raise taxes, lay off workers, cancel contracts and scale back programs even MORE than they otherwise would. Reduced spending by unemployed workers, newly laid-off state employees, and state contractors who lose business will be a significant drag on the recovery and will impede job growth.

They would rather kill a program that even some conservatives have praised as a one that could continue to be an effective and efficient job creator, eventually even creating most of those jobs in the private sector. Not only have they killed the program, they're killing the jobs it would have created -- perhaps most of them in the private sector, which is the kind of market-led job creation that conservatives say they want. Now, instead, demand for what the private sector offers will drop by at least 240,000.

Given the state of the labor market, it is hard to imagine how any sensible person could oppose such a move. It is a shame that such common sense was absent last year. If they are to be more than the party of no, Republicans need to rally around the Democrats who have shown such reserved pragmatism.

No sensible person would do this given the state of the economy, if they had the state of the economy in mind. Every effort to spur job creation and relieve the suffering of the unemployed has been blocked by the same conservatives who shed crocodile tears over the likelihood that people like Ben Stein, and wealthy whiners like him, will have their taxes raised about as much as the cost of a bag of groceries, without so much as a thought for the working Americans who will be devastated by this callous obstruction.

Maybe conservatives in Congress believe that TANF was helping the "wrong people". Maybe conservatives believe the work those helped by TANF were doing — helping low-income parents pursuing post-secondary education, educating people about their rights under wage and benefit laws helping economically challenged communities organize and advocate for themselves — doesn't need doing and mustn't be done because it helps the "wrong people."

What's clear is what conservatives think should be done to help thousands of Americans like Charles Jenkins, Brian Davis, Jaquayla Burton, Debbie Verdale -- Nothing.

In an interview today with "Fox News Sunday," Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller had trouble explaining how he would help the 43.6 million Americans in poverty, even as host Chris Wallace repeatedly pressed him for more than conservative talking points.

Wallace asked Miller about his assertion in August on CBS's "Face the Nation" that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional, noting that without them, many more Americans would be in poverty. "What would you do for them?" asked Wallace.

Miller, however, struggled to come up with an answer, and instead shifted to talking points about reducing the size of the federal government. Wallace repeatedly pressed him on the issue, without ever receiving an actual response.

Because the unspeakable answer is "nothing." That's what they've offered as an alternative to a successful program like TANF. Nothing. That is, except the same disastrous policies that got us here because didn't work before or worked too well.

TANF wasn't enough in terms of what could have been done to address the jobs crisis, but its success showed what was possible. Short-lived as it was, and small as it was, it put more people to work that conservatives did when they had a virtual lock on government. (Which, by the way, they spent not only not-creating jobs, but not reforming health care, and not even talking about financial reform.)

TANF may rise again, depending on the outcome in November, but the damage will have already been done to 240,000 Americans and their families, whom conservatives in Congress kicked back on to the unemployment rolls.

However disappointed and frustrated some progressives are that not enough has been done on jobs (and I count myself in that number), let's not kid ourselves. If conservatives take over after November, not only will nothing more be done, but they will roll back all that has been done if they get half a chance.

Killing 240,000 jobs was just the opening act. Wait until they cut unemployment benefits to the same 240,000 Americans they just sent to the unemployment, and then some.