Rep. John Lewis Presses For Clean, Straightforward Extension to U.I.
Today the U.S. House of Representatives will consider a bill entitled the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act H.R. 3630. The bill is deceptively named. Doctored by House Republicans, who heard quite clearly the Democrats' call for an extension of unemployment insurance before the Christmas adjournment, Republicans have used this mandate to load a so-called "extension" of benefits with damaging add-ons that are an all-out assault on Americans families.
"This bill hits Americans when they are down," said Rep. John Lewis. "While they are trying to recover from the worst recession this nation has seen in decades, while poverty and homelessness are on the rise and millions of Americans have been out of work for years, the Republicans in the House want to use the dire need to extend unemployment insurance to kick the legs out from under the American people and gut the benefit for those who need it the most. That is why I proposed an amendment to this bill, which provides for a clean, straightforward extension of unemployment benefits, just as the American people are expecting. The bill is paid for by the significant increase in revenue we would receive from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it simply offers the support the American people need."
Lewis, the original sponsor of the bill, was joined by three colleagues--Reps. Danny Davis (D-IL), Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA)-and sent the amendment and their statement of intent to the House Rules Committee last night. The House committee blocked consideration of all amendments, paving the way for the passage of a bad bill.
"The American people want unemployment insurance extended," said Rep. John Lewis, "But this is bait and switch. The name of bill sounds good, but it actually cuts the benefit in half, targets the states with the worst unemployment problems, like Georgia, and burdens the unemployed with suspicion and needless requirements. These individuals have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own. They should not be penalized and abused because they have fallen on hard times."
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act reduces the maximum number of weeks unemployment insurance will be federally funded from 73 weeks to 33 weeks, meaning 1 million Americans will slip off the rolls next year. Instead of offering states with high unemployment more support, it targets them for the largest cuts. States facing high rates of unemployment would lose 40 weeks of unemployment benefits next year, and Georgia is one of those states. The bill opens the door for some states to replace the unemployment benefit with a requirement for people to engage in workfare or voluntary work or even to divert up to 20 percent of the benefit into other activity as determined by the state.
Additionally, if the unemployed are not already struggling enough, the bill allows states to require drug testing as a prerequisite for receiving the benefit and requires those without a high school diploma to be enrolled in GED classes in order to be eligible to receive the benefit.
"This requirement adds insult to injury. My Republican colleagues are completely unwilling to compromise. They are focused on changing the government's relationship to the American people by getting rid of every safety net the people have come to depend on, whether the people agree with them or not. I will do everything in my power to oppose this bill."