House Republicans on Thursday unveiled a proposal to dramatically scale back federal unemployment insurance, slashing by 40 weeks Americans' eligibility for assistance. The plan -- apparently cheered by Republican House members in a closed-door meeting Thursday morning -- would leave millions of Americans out in the cold as they search for work and highlights a fundamental disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the need to extend federal unemployment insurance: Republicans blame the unemployed, while Democrats understand the exceptionally challenging circumstances that they face.
The facts couldn't be clearer: there are more than four unemployed Americans for every job opening. The unemployed aren't lazy, as many Republicans suggest. The economic climate is as difficult as it has been since the Great Depression.
Unemployed Americans on average receive less than $300 a week in assistance, and I have heard firsthand over the course of the last several weeks how that benefit -- while greatly appreciated -- helps families barely get by. Cutting off unemployment insurance for millions of Americans starting in January -- which is what Republicans have proposed -- could hardly come at a worse time. The national unemployment rate is still stubbornly high, at 8.6 percent, a figure that doesn't reflect the more difficult economic circumstances felt by Americans in many parts of the country.
"I am by no means unintelligent. I am by no means lazy. And I am by no means giving up," one gentleman from my district, Phil of Clinton Township, Mich., wrote to me through the eCall to Extend Unemployment Insurance that the Ways and Means Committee launched in November to collect stories of the unemployed. Like many of the people who have shared their stories, Phil has applied for dozens of jobs -- even landing some interviews -- without any luck.
The GOP proposal, would cut federal unemployment programs from 73 weeks of eligibility to 33 weeks. Most states offer up to 26 weeks of state benefits as well. In sum, Americans in the hardest hit states would see their assistance cut from 99 weeks to 59 weeks of unemployment insurance.
For regular updates about the proposal and any legislative activity or to share your story with others, I encourage you to visit the Extend Unemployment Insurance Facebook page that we launched in October and already has hundreds of followers.