Thought the lame duck session would be any different for Idaho's Walt Minnick after becoming a one-term congressman in decisive fashion this month? Think again. Thursday, Minnick was one of eleven Democrats voting against an extension of unemployment benefits. The measure was brought to the floor needing a two-thirds majority to pass but fell short despite a 258-154 margin voting in favor.
According to a report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, allowing the extension to expire would "drain the economy of $80 billion of purchasing power" and "could hamper the fragile recovery." Extending unemployment benefits are more effective than other policies analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office for increasing growth and employment, the report says, and "every dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits increases gross domestic product by $1.60."
Workers receiving unemployment insurance payments are typically cash‐strapped and will spend their benefits quickly. This quick spending generates a "multiplier" for the economy as a whole. Every dollar of unemployment benefits that a recipient spends can generate a cascade of spending by others, providing a significant jolt to the nation’s economy in terms of both economic activity and employment. Therefore, extending unemployment insurance benefits not only helps struggling households, but can also spur the creation of job opportunities.
The extension would help two million unemployed workers whose benefits are set to expire at the end of this month at an estimated cost of about $12 billion. Minnick has not yet publicly commented on this vote but when voting against a similar extension in July told Idaho Reporter, "I am absolutely opposed to digging the deficit hole deeper. I want to help them, but I want that help to be paid for."
Minnick has also indicated that he supports extending all of the Bush tax cuts, including those for the very wealthiest Americans. The price tag for keeping the tax breaks on income over $250,000 is estimated at $700 billion or 58 times more than the cost of the unemployment insurance extension.
It is unconscionable, under the guise of deficit reduction, to support giving the wealthiest 1% of Americans an average tax cut of over $83,000 a year that's not paid for, while refusing to help struggling middle class families stay in their homes and put food on the table.
Just how bad is it here in Canyon County?
Canyon County is currently suffering the worst unemployment since at least 1991, with a double-digit rate of 10.4%. That's down from a peak of 13.2% in January but still more than two points above the unemployment rate of 8.3% for the state.
Heading into the cold winter months, with the first snow falling today, the anecdotal evidence of families struggling is everywhere. Block after block in older, less afluent parts of Nampa filled with vacant and foreclosed homes, a young man arrested for stealing a bag of chicken from a local grocery store, and in, what is to me, the most graphic depiction of the dire straits some here are facing, someone in our neighborhood is so desperate for cash they are setting out in the dead of night to collect aluminum cans from recycling bins set out on the curb for pick up.
People here are struggling.
Those who are unemployed and eligible for unemployment insurance aren't going to become rich off their average $229 per week benefit, but they may be able to keep their home and provide necessities for their families. One less foreclosed home, one less vacant rental, one more family with hope that they may find work before they lose everything. One less person thinking the unthinkable. One more family still contributing to the economy.
In a perfect world these families would be able to find work and unemployment insurance would be unnecessary. This isn't a perfect world.
Do the right thing, Walt. When the unemployment extension comes before the House again, vote for it. Vote for your constituents who are wondering how they'll make it through the winter without work. Vote for small businesses who need middle-class families with the resources to buy their goods and services. Vote for this imperfect necessity. Tell your constituents they are worth the investment.