Dear Member of Congress:
You’ve got a lot to consider in this month. You’re scheduled to debate international treaties and Internet censorship. There’s talk of military affairs and revamping federal agencies. But this should be at the top of your agenda: extending benefits for unemployed workers and making sure struggling parents can continue to make ends meet.
You must renew unemployment insurance benefits now for the millions of long-term jobless workers in America. And you must allow jobs to continue to be created through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund.
Think like a struggling family and your decision won’t be so hard.
Consider Cynthia, a mother of three. She has been unemployed since August 2009. Online and in-person, she’s applied for more than 100 positions; inquired about scores and scores more. She’s gotten a few interviews. As of yet, however, not one of them has turned into a job offer. She makes $296 dollars a week in unemployment compensation. Imagine supporting an entire family on a few hundred dollars a week. Everything is a struggle. It’s a struggle to pay the rent, it’s a struggle to keep food on the table, and it’s a struggle to keep shoes on the kids’ feet. It’s a struggle to have to struggle so.
Put yourself in her place. Think about her children. Can you imagine the panic you would feel if you knew your only source of income was about to be cut off? Can you imagine the insecurity you would feel if you knew that soon Mommy would have no money at all?
It’s not even only about struggling families – it’s about the economy too.
Studies, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor, show the unemployment insurance program had an even more positive impact on the economy this time around than in previous recessions. Every dollar spent on jobless benefits generated $2 in economic activity, and during each quarter of the recent recession, the economic stimulus provided by those benefits kept an average of 1.6 million Americans on the job.
Americans need jobs. A job with a living wage is at the top of lots of wish lists this season. And while we’re talking about jobs, let’s talk about the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund. The TANF program itself is the nation’s basic welfare program, and before departing for the Thanksgiving holiday, you reauthorized TANF while leaving the Emergency Contingency Fund on the sidelines.
One of the best-kept secrets of last year’s recovery act was this job creation program that helped the economy while it also helped low-income parents and unemployed youth. Through this effort, 35 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, partnered with the private sector to create more than 240,000 new jobs through flexible block grants. The TANF-ECF also provided short-term assistance to some of the neediest families. It’s been called a success story by governors and state legislators from both parties. It makes sense that we would continue it, build on it.
The September deadline passed and TANF-ECF wasn’t extended. That’s water under the bridge. But now you have another chance: Put yourself in the place of a homeless family, a long-term unemployed worker and the decision will be clear.
This year, Congress earned base salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most people. You got retirement plans, health benefits, foreign travel stipends. Americans might not begrudge it so much if Congress didn’t seem so tight-fisted with the allocations when it comes to middle class families and those who are struggling with economic insecurity. But you can fix that perception.
The lame duck session will end soon.
It’s not too late for Congress to think like the rest of us; extend unemployment insurance benefits, restore the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund – give working Americans a little hope for the holidays.
Meric is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.