WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken today urged the Senate to pass an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits before the end of the year, citing the 10 percent unemployment rate and the annual rise in heating bills coming this winter.
The Minnesota Democrats joined 22 other senators who signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, asking for a vote on the issue by Dec. 31.
A 65 percent subsidy of premium costs for those with COBRA benefits, authorized by the stimulus bill, is set to expire at the end of the year. Bills still in committee would extend the COBRA subsidy until June and increase the subsidy to 75 percent of premiums from 65 percent. Pending legislation would also extend the $25-a-week unemployment benefit increase and suspend income tax on the first $2,400 of any unemployment benefits received.
“In Minnesota and across the country, workers are struggling to find jobs,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Extending these benefits will help people continue their health care coverage under COBRA as they continue to look for work.”
“Minnesotans are already hurting right now, and the expiration of the COBRA subsidy will make premiums so expensive that many families will be forced to drop their coverage,” Franken added. “Now is not the time to put another burden on struggling families. During this recession, the last thing Congress should do is pull the plug on benefits before folks have had a chance to get back to work.”
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Majority Leader Reid,
We are writing to ask for your continued support to make sure that the extension of unemployment benefits and eligibility for the COBRA subsidy is given high priority and passed before December 31, 2009. In the face of a 10 percent national unemployment rate, it is imperative that we act quickly.
We appreciate your leadership in November, when Congress expanded unemployment benefits by up to 20 weeks through the end of this year. However, as you know, our work is not complete. Nationally, one million workers could lose jobless benefits in January if we fail to extend this program before the end of the year. By March, three million unemployed individuals would lose federal jobless benefits.
These families cannot afford to wait. They need help now to put food on the table and to pay their rent. In many states the weather is getting cold and families need assistance to pay their heating bills.
Additionally, delays extending expiring ARRA provisions that help unemployed workers will have major administrative consequences. In a few weeks, state agencies that administer unemployment benefits will be forced to notify workers that the program will be shut down by the end of the year. This will create added workload for state agencies already pushed to the brink by the high number of unemployed Americans seeking help.
We request action on a legislative package that includes an extension of the unemployment insurance provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, full federal funding of the Extended Benefit program, an increase of $25 per week in state and federal benefits, and the suspension of the federal income tax on an individual’s first $2,400 of unemployment benefits. We must also extend the COBRA subsidy, to ensure health benefits are available for those who’ve lost their job. Legislation has been introduced on both unemployment insurance and COBRA and we continue to hear from constituents on these important matters. We urge you to act now.
Quick action in extending these benefits is not only imperative for those who’ve lost their jobs, but it is also good for the economy. Economists routinely rate increased unemployment benefits as among the most stimulative tools available to government. In fact, estimates show that every dollar spent on increased unemployment benefits increases economic activity by $1.63. Families who receive these benefits are likely to spend additional money quickly, helping to move our economy out of a recession.
We thank you for your consideration of our request. Our offices are committed to working with you to ensure swift passage of legislation to help unemployed workers across the nation.
Bob Casey, Jr.
Daniel K. Akaka
Frank R. Lautenberg
Roland W. Burris
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Jeffrey A. Merkley