fresh voices from the front lines of change







House Speaker John Boehner has decided to stand firmly in the way of more of 2 million people who need emergency jobless benefits.

The Hill newspaper quoted Boehner as saying that a Senate compromise plan that would renew jobless benefits for people who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks – aid that has been cut off since late December – is "unworkable."

Do you really want to know what's unworkable? Try being Renee Brooks. She's a 46-year-old mother living just outside Washington, D.C. She was laid off in July from her job as a case manager helping other mothers get off welfare. In January, she stopped receiving unemployment benefits. Soon, she and her 12-year-old daughter could lose their home.

Trying to support yourself and a budding teen-ager on virtually no income in a job market that is openly hostile to older workers? That's unworkable.

Boehner and the Republicans he leads need to be told in no uncertain terms that what's really "unworkable" is continued delay and obstruction on renewing emergency unemployment benefits. (We need to keep the fire lit under House Democrats as well.) We've made it easy to call your member of Congress with this click-to-call tool. Use it now.

I spoke to Brooks today after reading Suzy Khimm's account on "It's like they just don't care," Brooks said. "[It's as if] we are dogs on the street. They don't care if we are homeless."

Brooks said that she has been trying to apply for a broad range of jobs, including jobs that would use her 15 years of experience helping other people find work. "It's hard, but I'm doing the best I can," she said.

In the meantime, she worries about the fact that her daughter needs new clothes and has all of the other needs of a young woman entering her teen-age years. She does her best to love and support her, but "it's been difficult for her."

Brooks is hoping that a loan modification that she has applied for will stave off eviction from her home, and that aid she is receiving from the state will keep her from hitting rock bottom, but time is running out. "In a couple of months I don't know what I am going to do," she said.

When Republicans initially objected to renewing unemployment insurance, a key reason they put forward was that extending the program would "add to the deficit." Actually, what the program would add to the deficit directly is minor, and would be outweighed by the ripple effects of putting extra money in the hands of people who would spend it on necessities and their job-search efforts. In any event, Senate Democrats met that objection with a plan to fully offset the cost of the benefits.

Now Boehner says there are no job-creation measures associated with the benefit renewal. True enough, but there is nothing that requires Congress to couple job-creation to extending unemployment benefits.

But nonetheless we would welcome an effort by House Republicans to attach a real job-creation measure to the unemployment extension. One thing that would help is for Congress to appropriate enough money to replace the jobs that were cut by state and local governments, and by nonprofit organizations like the one that Brooks worked for, during the Great Recession.

There are 500,000 fewer state and local government jobs today than there were at the beginning of 2008. If Republicans wanted to demonstrate they are serious about helping people break free of government dependency, they would make sure that Brooks, and people like her who have been providing job counseling and placement to people who need it, are back at their jobs – not to mention the teachers, first responders and other service providers who have lost their jobs due to spending cuts.

There are a number of job-creation measures in the Progressive Caucus Better Off Budget that if they were attached to a House measure renewing unemployment benefits, we would applaud. But we know that Boehner only wants to talk about creating jobs, without actually putting on the House floor bills that would actually create jobs.

Boehner and House Republicans are not serious about jobs and do not take seriously the real pain of people who cannot find work in the economy hampered by their obstruction. That's what's really unworkable – and we need to tell him and his House colleagues that this is intolerable.

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