(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) spoke on the Senate floor in support of extending benefits for the unemployed. The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a proposal he offered along with Jack Reed (D-RI) to extend unemployment benefits for three months.
The proposal would prevent approximately 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans, including 17,000 Nevadans, from losing their unemployment insurance.
Remarks as prepared:
I rise today to discuss an issue that has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds ringing in the New Year, and that is extending benefits for the unemployed.
I hope that my friends and colleagues here in the Senate enjoyed their holidays, and that everyone returned refreshed and ready to tackle some tough issues in 2014.
Unfortunately, while Congress was in recess, approximately 17,000 Nevadans greeted the New Year not with the optimistic expectations of a fresh start, but with anxiety about how they are going to feed their families and pay their utility bills.
When Congress left Washington, D.C. in December, a lot of important matters were left undone and expired. As a result, millions of Americans were left with no idea whether or not their unemployment benefits were going to be “fixed retroactively” – something that has become all too common for Congress to do.
Helping those in need should not be a partisan issue. Providing a limited social safety net is one of the responsibilities of the federal government. Unfortunately, instead of planning ahead and figuring out the best way to do that, we are now forced to decide whether or not to reinstate these benefits after they have expired.
We should provide some relief to the millions of Americans that were left hanging when Congress went home in December and temporarily extend unemployment benefits for three months. It is the right thing to do. That short period will help these families whose benefits expired abruptly while Congress works out a longer-term solution that provides Americans with some certainty and is fiscally responsible.
I understand my colleagues’ concerns about the cost and their desire to pay for this extension. I, too, want to see our federal debt brought under control. My voting record is proof of that concern.
I, too, believe that Congress should be more focused on passing laws that actually help create jobs. Growing our economy should be the primary concern of this body. As the Senator of the state that leads the nation in unemployment, believe me, I understand the need to refocus on jobs. I would rather be down here discussing innovative ways to create jobs instead of the need to extend unemployment benefits yet again.
But because of this Administration and even some of the choices of this body, unfortunately, our economy is not growing quickly enough and many Americans are still hurting – including a lot of Nevadans.
My state is struggling. I have repeated often on this floor that Nevada consistently tops the chart in unemployment, in bankruptcies and in foreclosures. The statistics are surely revealing, but more startling is the obvious increase of impoverished Nevadans that I meet when I go home.
Every Thanksgiving, one or two of my children join me in serving Thanksgiving dinner to folks in Reno who are in need and cannot cook a Thanksgiving meal of their own. This year, my daughter Emy joined me during her first break home from college.
Every year, that dinner sees more and more attendees. Every year, the number of individuals and families who need help increases. This year, the venue was absolutely packed. It is such an obvious example of how so many Nevadans are unable to provide for their basic needs that it cannot be ignored.
I know that many economists point to a national unemployment rate that is improving. But at home, we don’t feel it. The unemployment rate in Nevada has consistently far exceeded the national average. In fact, the Silver State has led the nation for the past three years in unemployment and as a result, people are really hurting. It is difficult to stand here, in the nation’s Capitol – an area that has largely felt little negative impacts of the recession – and describe just how tough times are for so many of my constituents. At these Thanksgiving dinners, I hear about the choices individuals are forced to make: whether to buy gas for the car, or to pay for heat in frigid northern Nevada winters, or to buy school supplies for their children, or to save for the future.
These are the hard working individuals who rely on these benefits. They have been trying to find jobs. They want to provide for their children. But for these benefits to simply vanish, without giving families time to plan and figure out alternatives to help them get by is just not right.
I, too, understand the concerns about the cost of these benefits. I would prefer to see them paid for in a manner that does not burden our nation with more debt. I have previously introduced legislation that would do just that – legislation that would extend unemployment benefits while still paying for them. At the time, I introduced my legislation as an alternative to a more costly bill because I think it’s important that our nation bring down its debt. I am ready to work with my colleagues to introduce similar legislation again this year.
But in the meantime, I propose that we pass this short-term extension now. That would allow Congress the opportunity to spend the next three months debating how to pay for these benefits in the future, or perhaps how much longer they should be extended. Those are important questions worthy of more debate. But in the meantime, Congress simply must provide some temporary relief to those who are unemployed.
Paying for these benefits would be the best approach. Congress could have taken the harder road to figure out a way to do that before departing for the holiday break and leaving Americans hanging. But they didn’t. So let’s pass this short term extension, and focus on a more fiscally responsible solution for the longer-term.