Congresswoman wants to restore benefits for more than 2,300 county residents

A week after more than 2,300 Washington County residents saw their unemployment benefits end, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton) renewed her support of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. She joins Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in calling for a renewal of the program, and in supporting a federal bill that would extend it for three months.

Congress did not vote to extend the program by its Dec. 28, 2013, deadline, and benefits expired for a reported 1.3 million people on that day.

“Although the economy is gradually recovering from the Great Recession, there are still too many unemployed Americans, including thousands in Oregon,” Bonamici said. “Emergency unemployment should be phased out as the economy recovers and the need decreases. It should not end abruptly for so many who need assistance while still looking for employment.”

Bonamici’s district includes all of Beaverton, where the unemployment rate is 6.4 percent. The statewide unemployment rate is 7.7 percent.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation funding has offered an additional level of relief since it was established by Congress in 2008 in response to an economic recession and slow recovery. EUC is four-tiered, with the first 14 weeks of additional benefits available to those who have been seeking full-time employment for 27 weeks or more. EUC offers up to 47 weeks of additional benefits that are variable based on the state’s unemployment rate.

Jobless applicants are eligible for EUC funds after they have exhausted two other levels of unemployment benefits. The first tier is largely state-funded, with Oregon offering up to 26 weeks of payment to eligible applicants. The Extended Benefits program, which has been federally funded since 2009, offers up to 20 weeks of additional compensation and is available depending on the state’s unemployment rate.

Congress must renew benefit extensions each year, and has done so since the EUC program was established in 2008.

Bonamici cited a report issued jointly by the White House and the U.S. Department of Labor outlining the value of extended benefits, programs which the report says have served 23.9 million Americans in the past five years. The report argues that such programs bolster national employment rates, as benefits are contingent upon applicants’ continued and documented job search.

In response to criticism of the program’s reported $25 billion expense, Bonamici echoed the report’s warning that canceling extended benefits would stymy economic recovery, and an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office showed the gross domestic product could be lowered by up to 0.4 percent as a result.

“Ending emergency unemployment is not only hard on families; it’s also bad economic policy,” Bonamici said. “Emergency unemployment benefits are typically spent on rent, groceries and other immediate needs and services. When benefits expire, so did those expenditures.”

Bonamici slammed Congress for adjourning in December before first considering a bill to allow a temporary extension of EUC. That bill passed through Senate on Tuesday.

In December, Bonamici and fellow Oregon representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio issued a report Dec. 19, which showed an estimated 20,000 Oregonians losing unemployment benefits by the end of 2013.

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