For some, it was a season of rejoicing. Unexpectedly, Congress actually passed a bipartisan budget deal, mercifully sparing us from the fiscal brinkmanship of the last few years. However, not everyone was saved from the fiscal edge. When Congress adjourned for the holidays, 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their unemployment benefits because Congress failed to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program.
Instead of attending holiday parties with their friends and family, moms like Mary Jean from New Jersey stressed and worried about what their family would do without the vital unemployment benefits that were keeping their family afloat. Mary Jean writes:
I woke up this morning to find an email was sent to me telling me my husband's unemployment benefits will end come December 28th. It was like a sucker punch to my stomach. The first thought on my mind was 'now how do I take care of my five children?' I work part-time at night because my husband was working full-time during the day. The money we received from unemployment just helped us get by. My husband searches and searches online for work and there is nothing steady. So where do we go from here? Out in the streets? How will I pay my mortgage? How will I pay for the oil delivery? How will I make my car payment?
Unfortunately, Mary Jean's story is not unique. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are still 10.9 million people who are unemployed, including 4.1 million who are long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more). The jobless rate for women is 6.2%. Which is why it is utterly confusing that Congress allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program to expire at the end of December, leaving millions of families without benefits and out in the cold.
Families with unemployed workers depend on EUC to help pay the mortgage, put food on the table, pay the utilities and gas bill and provide medication for their children. Without it, the effects of joblessness would be even harsher than they already are.
Unemployment Insurance is one of the top public programs that helps lift millions of women and children out of poverty each year. In 2012 alone, unemployment insurance kept more than 1.7 million people, including 655,000 women and 446,000 children, from falling into poverty.
Moms and dads are not the only people being helped by this safety net program -- local economies also benefit. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, famously stated that for each dollar of unemployment insurance, $1.55 in new economic activity is generated. And while it is clear that unemployment benefits helps our economy, there is equal amounts of research showing that failure to extend this important program would actually hurt our economy. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, failing to extend unemployment benefits would actually create more unemployment, costing 240,000 jobs in 2014.
If EUC is not extended, job-seekers will cut back on their spending, leading to what JP Morgan has estimated to be a .2 to .4 percentage points drop in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C. this week. Their number one priority must be to extend EUC for the millions of jobless workers struggling to make ends meet. As voters and citizens, we must insist that Congress not leave the unemployed out in the cold and that unemployed benefits be extended as soon as possible. Mary Jean and millions of other moms like her are counting on Congress to do the right thing right away.