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Sen. WydenTakes to Senate Floor to Pass Additional Unemployment Benefits

Senator Ron Wyden
D-Oregon

Mr. President, in a few minutes I’m going to offer a unanimous consent request on legislation extending enhanced unemployment insurance.

But first, let’s have a quick check-in with the economic reality in America: only half the jobs lost earlier this year have come back; it’s likely the other half will never come back, many jobs having been lost forever.

Permanent layoffs are stacking up. Right now, 25 million Americans are receiving unemployment insurance. Their insurance payments were slashed when Republicans let enhanced unemployment insurance expire at the end of July.

And week after week, the numbers of people filing new claims for unemployment insurance is still higher than any single week during the Great Recession.

Upward of 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty over the last few months. In the month of September alone – just one month – nearly a million women dropped out of the workforce.

And to make matters worse, the pandemic that’s causing all this economic carnage is only getting worse as the fall coronavirus wave begins to rise nationwide.

The restaurant and bar industry. The travel industry. The live-entertainment industry. We’re talking about millions and millions of workers who are out of a job right now, plus millions more who are worried they’re going to get laid off this winter as COVID-19 infections rise.

So the fact is, despite what Donald Trump says, our economy isn’t anywhere near fully recovered. Not even close. This jobs crisis won’t be over until the public health crisis is over.

That’s why, in the meantime, the only reasonable and logical thing to do is to bring back enhanced unemployment insurance and keep them for the duration of this emergency. That is what I am calling for and that is what all reasonable members of Congress should be calling for.

The bill extends the crucial programs from the CARES Act – the extra $600 per week, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed workers, and additional weeks of benefits – until January 31. In addition to the enhanced unemployment benefits, what that does is help to avoid throwing millions and millions of Americans over a financial cliff at the end of the year.

In my judgement, this is just basic economic fairness. This insurance is all about making sure that the tens of millions of people who are walking an economic tightrope during this pandemic can pay the rent, put food on the table, and buy their medicine. And tens of millions of Americans, all the way from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, still need that lifeline.

Continuing to block an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance is the economic equivalent of going for herd immunity with COVID-19 – telling the most vulnerable people out there that they are on their own. That their government isn’t going to do any more to protect them.

Now, from the beginning of this pandemic, my colleagues on the other side have opposed enhanced unemployment insurance. Back in March, Democrats said replacing people’s lost wages was going to be one of our absolute top priorities for the CARES Act. We got it in the bill. Turned out it was the only provision that the Republican majority attempted to remove. Fortunately their effort failed, because enhanced unemployment insurance turned out to be the most successful economic rescue program in ages.

But for months, Republicans have been repeating the same story about why they oppose this insurance. They claim it’s because it’s holding back the economy – that it’s a disincentive to work and lazy workers are choosing to sit at home collecting insurance.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

That was wrong from the beginning. And by now it should be obvious. Enhanced unemployment insurance expired at the end of July. If those insurance payments were really shackling our economy and disincentivizing work, then why wasn’t there a megaboom in hiring in August?

The fact is, job growth slowed down immediately after enhanced unemployment insurance expired. And it plummeted in September.

So the reasons to bring back enhanced insurance ought to be clear. It’s the right thing to do in terms of economic fairness for workers during a pandemic. The main argument against enhanced insurance has been proven wrong.

And finally, renewing these enhanced insurance payments is the smart approach when it comes to public health.

The pandemic is raging. Cases are going up. There are new hotspots all over the map.

In some parts of the country, Mayors or Governors may soon face the possibility that certain areas should go back into lockdown. Business owners might begin to wonder if staying open is too dangerous a prospect – particularly in places like restaurants and cafes.

Taking the steps needed to crush this virus will be easier if workers have the backstop of enhanced unemployment insurance. That’s an undeniable fact.

Blocking enhanced unemployment insurance creates a disincentive to crush the virus with strong action. It will lead to more people spending more time in more hot spots, perpetuating both the tragedy of this pandemic as well as the tragedy of our anemic economy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s a lot more work to be done. State and local governments need more funding for hospitals and testing. They need more funding for schools. They need more funding for basic municipal services. There will be more opportunities to talk about those issues in the days ahead.

For now, passage of this enhanced unemployment insurance is long overdue. The Senate, in my view, has no choice but to extend the enhanced unemployment insurance. Therefore, I ask unanimous consent the senate proceed to the immediate consideration of my bill to provide assistance to unemployed workers.

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