By Congresswoman Julia Brownley
Everyone remembers what happened five years ago when our economy fell into the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Everyone knows someone — or knows of someone — who lost their job through no fault of their own during this severe economic downturn.
It’s not just our families and friends who have suffered, but our local businesses who depend on their customers doing a little home improvement, replacing an old refrigerator, getting their car fixed, or buying some new clothes for their kids.
Yet, while we are still climbing back during this long and slow recovery, we have an extreme tea party faction in Congress who — despite the facts and history — refuses to help the 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance was cut off just three days after Christmas.
For 214,000 Californians, it’s anything but a happy holiday season. Families should be coming together to celebrate and enjoy the holidays, but they are worrying about whether they can afford to pay for food, rent or electricity.
To most of us, $303.37 per week — the average weekly benefit — doesn’t seem like a lot. We can’t pay our monthly bills on that. But for our 4,600-plus friends and neighbors in Ventura County who rely on the benefit, it helps them make ends meet so they can look for work.
We’ve all heard the statistics: there are three people looking for work for every job opening. Our country faces a jobs shortage, and the only way to solve it is to create more jobs and to prepare our workers for the jobs that do exist.
Open up the classified section of this newspaper and others around the country.
Every week, there are lots of job listings in computer programming, network administration, high-tech manufacturing, and nursing and medical support roles. Those are the very sectors for which we need to train those looking for work.
Most people who depend on unemployment insurance can’t find employment because the jobs they once had will never return. We need to help them retool and retrain so they can go from where the good-paying jobs of the 20th century were to where the good-paying jobs of the 21st century are.
But when Congress adjourned for the year, it left without extending a lifeline to those who simply cannot find work before their unemployment benefits run out, despite the fact that the rate of Americans unemployed for longer than six months remains near historic highs due to a slow and fragile economic recovery still underway.
In addition, another 325,000 people in the Golden State will lose their benefits in the first six months of 2014 if Congress fails to act.
Speaker John Boehner is giving into the extreme right-wing tea party faction of his party by not allowing the House to vote to extend this vital relief for people who worked hard, played by the rules, and lost their jobs largely due to a Wall Street-fueled real estate binge.
Where’s the holiday spirit in that? Where’s the goodwill toward men (and women) in that?
Boehner and the tea party extremists in his own party would rather continue to give tax breaks to Big Oil and hedge fund managers than to help middle class families that fell on hard times. Merry Christmas to these special interests, they say, while giving lumps of coal to the most vulnerable among us.
But what about the 240,000 jobs in the U.S. — 46,000 of them in California — that would be lost if extended unemployment insurance is ended? Should we just turn a blind eye on our friends and neighbors as they go from making a middle-class living to having to work two minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet?
These may be the values of Boehner and his tea party colleagues, but they are not Ventura County values and they are not the values of the vast majority of the American people.
After we recover from the holiday festivities, let us once again find the bipartisan consensus that finally reopened the government after the disastrous tea party-led shutdown, and resolve to help our friends and neighbors find their footing in 2014.
We cannot adequately grow our economy, expand the middle class and stay true to our values as a nation if we do not.