Unemployed Jobseekers Tell House Democrats: Renew Federal Unemployment Benefits

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives called a special hearing today on the looming expiration of federal unemployment insurance, and heard powerful testimony from unemployed workers and advocates on the need to renew the federal benefits program before year’s end.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader in the House, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee, called the hearing before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee with just a week remaining on the House calendar before its scheduled holiday recess.

Nancy PelosiSander Levin

More than 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers will be abruptly cut off of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) on December 28 unless Congress renews the federal program.  Nearly two million more would not have any federal benefits once their state benefits run out by July 1 of next year.

Vera Volk, a biotech researcher from Lynn, Massachusetts, and Stan Osnowitz, an electrician from Baltimore, Maryland, two unemployed workers facing the loss of federal unemployment benefits, provided personal testimony supporting the need to renew EUC.  Their stories were so moving that Members of Congress in attendance could barely hold back their own tears at times.  Lisa Floyd, from Chesapeake, Ohio, similarly provided powerful testimony on the critical role federal EUC benefits played in helping to sustain her through a difficult eight month job search that ended with her finding a new job just this week.

Joining the workers as witnesses were Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), and Father Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, each of whom provided testimony in support of the workers’ calls for Congress to stop the shutdown of EUC and renew the federal benefits for next year.

The hearing was carried live on C-SPAN3.  You can watch the entire hearing via the C-SPAN video archive.

Here are some excerpts from each of the workers’ submitted written remarks:

Vera Volk:

Vera VolkThank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of millions of unemployed workers across America, who, like me, face the year-end shut down of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits if this Congress fails to act to renew the EUC program for 2014.

My name is Vera Volk. I am from Lynn, Massachusetts.  I have earned a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology and a Master’s in Immunology.  I am a 20 year biotech / pharma professional who has had more than a dozen positions is several business functions within academia and industry. Most recently, I invested four years with a small biotech firm performing critical cancer diagnostic research and test development. I was laid off at the end of May 2013 due to research financing issues, which have been further complicated by the federal budget sequestration.

I am deeply engaged in daily job searching, spending at least eight hours a day scanning numerous job and company websites; tailoring my applications and resumes to each specific posting. I have sent in more than 80 applications and posted at least 50 resumes online. I am applying for jobs at all levels, including entry-level positions. I am actively engaged WIND networking group consisting of technical professionals. I have attended their job search workshops and pursued many job postings. As the seventh month of my job search begins, I continue looking for employment in biotech/pharma. I am also applying for seasonal and part time employment in retail and service industries. ...

My weekly state benefit is approximately $415 a week. It has helped keep a roof over our heads, but we have had to cut back on basic food and medical expenses – which has exacerbated my food allergies thus worsening my Crohn’s disease.  I am literally worried sick; my nights are filled with fears, tears and little sleep.  If federal EUC shuts down, most likely our home will be placed in foreclosure and our cars repossessed.  We are also in need food, heating, and medical assistance.

With my regular state benefits ending this week, I will join the 1.3 million Americans currently receiving federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation. If this Congress fails to act to renew the federal EUC program for 2014, we face the cut-off of those EUC benefits just three days after Christmas. I don’t know what this would do to my health, for our health.

To face these prospects at the age of 53, with a lifetime of education and experience behind me, is shocking me – and should be a call to action to the Members of this Congress. The very least this Congress can do … must do is invest in America by renewing the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for 2014.

Lisa Floyd:

Lisa FloydThank you for inviting me here to share my story. My name is Lisa Floyd. For nearly fourteen years I worked as a Director of Volunteer Services, for an area non-profit Hospice which serves West Virginia and Ohio. I have worked all of my adult life, having had three jobs for my whole career. Until now, I have never been unemployed.

As soon as I lost my job, I immediately began my furious search for employment and began navigating the world of on line job boards and diligent networking. My goal was to place my resume in the hands of everyone I ever knew. I have spent the majority of my waking hours looking for work. During this time, I was able to support myself because I received vital unemployment insurance benefits.

In a box on the floor by my desk, I have a stack of job application receipts, job descriptions, research, and various forms of my resume and cover letters. This stack is two feet tall. I know because I measured it. In addition, my online network connections have gone viral. ...

My regular state unemployment benefits ended in early November and I immediately began receiving federal EUC benefits. They helped keep me going even as my job search stretched past six months. If I didn’t have EUC, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my mortgage would have been at risk to lose my beloved little house. I was raised by my Mother and we struggled. We never owned a home, but lived in apartments. So I am especially proud of my home and know that my deceased Mother would have been proud that she raised me right. I am somebody. I own a home.

Now, in the eighth month of my job search, I’m happy to say that I just secured a new job three days ago, on Monday. And although my new job pays much, much less than what I was making, it is a good job with a livable wage, and for that I am very grateful.

Without unemployment insurance and the federal EUC benefits, I would have not been able to sustain myself and my job search. So, for me, these programs have done what they are supposed to do – they kept me in my home. I could still buy groceries and pay my bills. My anxiety was kept to a manageable level, and I was able to keep sending out applications and going on interviews.

If I had not been fortunate in finding this job, I would have faced the year end cut off of federal EUC benefits, absent Congressional action. For millions, that would be devastating. For me, it could have meant the loss of my home.

I am so relieved and grateful that I won’t have to face that now, but I know millions of others are at the same risk I was -- just three days ago. That was Monday. I am here on their behalf – pleading with Congress to renew the federal EUC program for 2014 and give the other 1.3 million unemployed Americans a - fighting chance at becoming reemployed.

I am an EUC success story. Won’t you please allow that to be America’s story?

Stan Osnowitz:

Stan OsnowitzGood morning and thank you for inviting me to speak today.  My name is Stan Osnowitz and I’m from Baltimore, Maryland.  I’ve been a journeyman wireman electrician since 1975 and I have done electrical work since I was a teenager.  Now, I’m 67 years young, and I am capable, fully able and more than eager to work.  I need to work.  I love to work. It’s who I am.

And I will tell you this: I hate being unemployed.  It is a waste of my abilities.

During the recent recession and the early part of the recovery, I was fortunate to have continuous work on a three year job that had a lot of overtime.   Knowing that work in my industry can be sporadic, I put away a lot of money from that job.   But the five month job I had earlier this year ended on July 3 and now that my unemployment insurance is my only income, I’ve used up the savings I put away.   I’m in the twentieth week of regular state unemployment benefits, which will end for me in January.

The unemployment benefits have helped me just scrape by week to week, but even with them I am not able to pay my full portion of the expenses for the apartment I share.  And trying to find a job now is a very difficult thing.  Construction work is hard to find in the winter, and outside of my industry, from what I’ve seen, potential employers see my age and look right past me.  They see my age, they don’t see me.

But I still get up between 4 and 4:30 every morning. I am actively pursuing work through my union and elsewhere.  Things should pick up for me in the spring, but I’m looking every day in the hopes of getting something sooner because I hate not working.

So, now I’m here facing the end of my state unemployment benefits in January – and if this Congress does not act to renew the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, there will be no federal benefits available to me and people like me.  If that happens, and I’m still unemployed, I won’t be able to pay for even the basics.  If Congress just lets the EUC program shut down, I won’t even be able to put gas in my car to go out looking for work.

Tell me, how is that going to help me and others like me get back to work?

Don’t allow the shutdown of federal unemployment insurance.  I urge the Congress to renew EUC for 2014.  Thank you for the chance to share my story.

In a statement issued after the hearing today, NELP’s Christine Owens said:

“Millions of jobless workers are facing severe hardship, even homelessness in many cases, if Congress allows the EUC program to expire. The value of the emergency benefits program, and the urgent need to maintain it in 2014—for workers, their families and the economy—was evident in the testimony of today’s worker witnesses, whose stories clearly struck the hearts and consciences of the House Members who were present.

“It’s hard to imagine that anyone hearing today’s witnesses would doubt the sincere desire of the long-term unemployed to get back to work, their diligence in trying to find jobs, the crucial importance EUC benefits play in making it possible for them to get by while looking for work, and the urgent need for Congress to act—before the recess—to renew this vital program. At a minimum, the Committee on Way and Means should convene a full hearing, with bi-partisan participation, to inform all members of Congress of what’s at stake in the cavalier and callous refusal to consider renewing federal unemployment insurance, which sustains millions of jobless workers, keeping many of them from descending into poverty.

“Instead, we were dismayed to read earlier today that House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dave Camp proposes to let the federal EUC program expire:  ‘It was meant to be temporary, and we need to let the program expire,’ House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) said on Wednesday. ‘This has gone on longer than any emergency benefits in the history of the country.’ (Washington Wire blog on the Wall Street Journal website)

“The crisis of long-term unemployment has endured longer than during any other period of emergency benefits in our history—and it is the extraordinary depth and duration of this crisis that demands preserving the core federal policy designed to respond to it. By nearly every key measure, neither long-term unemployment nor the overall job market have improved much since the program was last renewed, in bipartisan legislation that Representative Camp helped craft and champion.

“It is surprising that today’s circumstances, which are not appreciably better than at the end of 2012, have not led Representative Camp and his colleagues to embrace a renewal of a program so vital to so many of their constituents and to the nation overall. Perhaps they should listen to what one of Mr. Camp’s constituents wrote us before today’s hearing. Linda Sandefur, a 49-year-old jobseeker from Brant, Michigan, who faces the prospect of having her federal benefits cut off December 28, said:

‘Though I would vastly prefer to be working, I ask that Federal Unemployment Insurance (EUC) be continued. I worked for eight years in various capacities at Michigan Works!, a workforce development agency. I worked as a Career Manager, Disability Navigator and Employment Services Advisor. My most recent position ended in June of this year due to funding not being renewed. I have a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s to go with years of work experience, but the job search has been very discouraging. Interviews have been few and far between.

‘Now I'm told that Congress may let the federal EUC benefits stop completely at the end of December, which would leave me and more than a million other unemployed jobseekers out in the cold. Without federal unemployment benefits I will very likely lose my home.

‘Here in Michigan the unemployment rate is back up to 9 percent and the state will again offer Tier 4 EUC benefits beginning next week. But if Congress shuts down EUC on December 28, we'll go from providing up to 47 weeks of federal benefits to zero weeks. My Congressman, Dave Camp, and the entire Michigan delegation, Republicans and Democrats, should come together to ensure the renewal of federal EUC for 2014. It's just the right thing to do.’

“It was a privilege to join three long-term unemployed workers in testifying today in support of renewing the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Though their stories were their own, they echoed the crisis facing millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, are trying to get back to work, and desperately need the modest support EUC provides in the meantime. We can only hope that all members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, will open their heads and their hearts to their constituents facing an end of benefits, and act to renew the EUC program before it expires this month.”

Watch the C-SPAN video of the entire hearing.


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