"In the three weeks since Republicans filibustered a bill to extend this important program, 220,000 more Americans have lost their benefits. And state economies across the country have suffered, as unemployed people who were already getting by on so little find ways to survive on even less."
Washington, D.C. - Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the bipartisan farm bill conference report and the importance of restoring emergency unemployment benefits. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Tonight the Senate will vote to end debate on the farm bill conference report. I expect the Senate to conclude work on this measure, which will reduce the deficit and protect hungry families, after tomorrow's weekly caucus meetings. Passing this legislation will support our nation's farmers and ranchers, and more than 16 million jobs in the farm industry. Ensuring our farms remain the most productive in the world and protecting American agriculture jobs is vital to our economic recovery. I commend Chairwoman Stabenow for her skillful negotiation of this conference report, and I look forward to a strong bipartisan vote on final passage tomorrow.
As we continue to work toward final passage of the farm bill conference report, a bipartisan group of Senators has been working behind the scenes to reach an agreement to restore emergency unemployment benefits to 1.6 million Americans. In the three weeks since Republicans filibustered a bill to extend this important program, 220,000 more Americans have lost their benefits. And state economies across the country have suffered, as unemployed people who were already getting by on so little find ways to survive on even less.
When unemployment benefits dry up, customers disappear from local stores and business suffers. More than $2.2 billion has drained from state economies since emergency unemployment insurance expired. Nevada alone lost $29 million in economic activity last month. And $28 million has drained from the economy in the Republican Leader's home state of Kentucky since emergency benefits expired on December 31.
It's no wonder two-thirds of Americans - including 65 percent of Independents - believe we should extend unemployment assistance. Helping neighbors who have hit hard times is not only the compassionate thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do for our economy.
Since Republicans filibustered a bill to restore benefits without adding a penny to the deficit, the toll on local and national economies has been devastating. But the toll on unemployed Americans has been immeasurable.
For people who have worked all their lives and who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, being unemployed is difficult enough. But worrying about how to pay the rent, put gas in the car and buy groceries while they look for a new job can be demoralizing. And for the long-term unemployed - some of whom have been struggling to find work for more than a year - $300 a week in unemployment benefits can be the difference between keeping a roof over their heads or becoming homeless.
A 57-year-old Nevada woman wrote to me last week to say the loss of her unemployment check was the last straw. Now she's homeless and "couch surfing" - sleeping on the couches of friends kind enough to take her in.
This is what she wrote to me: "Can you imagine sleeping on friends' couches at my age? Can you imagine having to sell everything you worked hard for just to keep gas in the car in the event that someone calls for an interview?" She went on to say this: "I have worked my whole life, since I was 16 years old, and contributed to a system that is now failing me on a major scale."
Millions of people just like this unfortunate Nevada woman - people who have worked hard all their lives, contributed to their communities and played by the rules - are on the verge of losing everything. But it doesn't have to be this way.
I remain cautiously optimistic that Republicans will heed their constituents at home and help Democrats restore emergency benefits to Americans in need. Congress can't solve every problem. But we can solve this one. All we have to do is work together - Democrats and Republicans - to do what is right for our constituents, our country and our economy.
Read this original document at: http://www.reid.senate.gov/press_releases/2014-03-02-reid-remarks-on-the-need-to-restore-emergency-unemployment-insurance#.UvBWED2SxxA