Mr. President, I speak in support of extending unemployment benefits to provide much needed relief to jobless workers.
Nearly 2 million Americans, including more than 13,000 Minnesotans, will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of the year. We are facing record high unemployment in this country. The number of Americans out of work has almost doubled over the past 2 years. People who want to get back to work are still facing a depressed job market, where there are six unemployed workers for every job opening. It is no wonder that I have received so many letters from my constituents, scores of people going to 60 job interviews, sending in hundreds of resumes.
I thank Senator Shaheen for her leadership here; Senator Durbin, who just spoke; the majority leader, Senator Baucus, Senator Dodd, Senator Jack Reed, and my other distinguished collagues in working with me to provide this much needed relief. I was so pleased that we were able to put together a proposal that included all fifty states because I simply could not explain to the people of my state that while people in Wisconsin who are unemployed would get exteneded unemployment benefits, those in Minnesota would not. Our states share a border, but when people suffer in one state, they also suffer in the other.
This is a fiscally responsible solution that is fair and will provide for a State such as Minnesota, where unemployment is still high but below 8.5 percent, which was the mark that was used in the House bill. Unemployment is unemployment no matter where you live. Minnesotans without jobs do not suffer any less because our State’s unemployment rate is slightly lower.
Several constituents wrote to me earlier, when Minnesota’s unemployment rate was around 8 percent. At that time, as I mentioned, the proposal from the House would have cut things off at 8.5 percent. After getting these letters and talking to people in my State, I decided that was not good enough.
In one letter, Marilynn, from St. Paul, wrote:
"Unemployment may be 8 percent for the State of Minnesota, but in our house it’s 100 percent."
As Marilynn notes, unemployment is a national issue that does not simply begin or stop at State lines. Being unemployed in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, or any other State does not hurt any more or less than being unemployed in Minnesota. Deep, persistent unemployment hurts no matter where you happen to live, and the solution my colleagues and I crafted strikes the right balance in recognizing that fact.
Mariann from White Bear Lake, MN, wrote:
"The tremendous stress of trying to search for an affordable job and raise two children on my own is overwhelming in itself. I cannot help that I live in one of the States with lower than 8.5 percent unemployment."
And Brian from Anoka wrote:
"In fairness, what is good for one unemployed person should be good for all unemployed persons everywhere."
As the Senator from Illinois knows, sometimes we get letters that are all the same, from groups that organize, but these were individual letters from citizens out there who are hurting and who actually looked at the paper, heard the news, and decided: Wait a minute, the House bill, at 8.5 percent, does not help me. I am going to be left with nothing.
Simply put, this legislation in the Senate provides relief in a fair way to all those in need. This legislation helps jobless workers who desperately need relief. This legislation does not add to the deficit. This legislation is the right thing to do. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to convince some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to agree that struggling middle-class Americans deserve an up-or-down vote on whether their unemployment benefits should be extended.
While my colleagues can perhaps afford to wait in their States—maybe the unemployed people in their States aren’t writing them these letters—the more than 13,000 Minnesotans who will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of December cannot afford to wait. They have already waited too long. The time to act is now. This is the decent thing to do, and in a stretched economy, it is the right thing to do.
I know people are happy that we have started to see some good numbers on Wall Street. We need that. Maybe it will help us with our 401(k)s. But what do you say to Barbara, from Mahtomedi, MN, who understands Wall Street is doing well, but writes this:
"My husband has been looking for a job since March and without unemployment to help us out, I don’t know what will happen. All four of us have been looking for steady employment for months. We drive old cars, bought a house within our means that we have been fixing up slowly by ourselves the past 22 years, buy everything used or on sale. Please don’t let Minnesotans get left out in the cold—oh yes, don’t forget about the heating bills coming in the next months. We need jobs and extending benefits will help us survive."
And what would my colleagues who are now stopping this bill from coming to the floor say to Carolyn of Woodbury, MN, who writes:
"As of the early part of November of this year, I will have completed all my unemployment benefits. I have been looking for work daily since May of 2008 and have had several interviews but no offers yet. I like working, I am looking for work, I want to work and I am able to work but have not gotten any offers yet. Is there any chance that unemployment benefits will be extended? My unemployment is my only source of income and if I am not able to get that and don’t have a job what will happen to a person like myself?"
The time for partisanship is over. This is about people's lives and their ability to survive and to continue to provide for their families. I am very glad this Senate recognized that an unemployed person in Minnesota needs as much help as an unemployed person in Wisconsin, but now it is time to get the bill passed.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.