As our economy is continuing to recover, and new jobs are being created every day, President Obama reminds us that we still have much to do, as millions of Americans are working every day to find jobs. Until recently, people had been able to rely upon the safety net of federal unemployment insurance to help put food on the table and pay the rent.
However, Republicans in Congress have refused to extend unemployment insurance, leaving 1.7 million Americans without benefits, including more than 20,000 Marylanders. Approximately 70,000 more Americans lose their unemployment insurance each week that Congressional Republicans don’t choose to do what is right.
Once again the GOP is putting partisan politics over struggling American families. It is sad and disappointing that these lawmakers do not realize these are real people that rely upon this essential benefit as a lifeline.
In 2012 alone, unemployment insurance lifted 2.5 million Americans out of poverty, and since 2008, 17 million children have been supported by unemployment benefits. Failing to extend benefits could slow our recovery and cost the economy 240,000 jobs this year. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office found that funding for the unemployed was one of “the largest effects on output and employment per dollar of budgetary cost.”
And in communities of color, the need is ever greater. The unemployment rate for African-Americans – while on the decline – still remains higher than the national average. This is not acceptable. President Obama knows this, and Democrats across the country know this. Nationally, the unemployment rate among African-Americans has remained above 11% for more than four years. Renewing unemployment insurance will provide the crucial safety net that these families need to succeed.
Join me in calling on Republican Members of Congress to renew unemployment insurance. It is time to put an end to partisanship, work with Democrats and help our citizens who are searching for jobs.
Yvette Lewis is the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.
On January 23, 2014, an image of my father appeared on the front page of the Hattiesburg American, a local paper in Mississippi. The solemn picture shows an older African-American man recreating the city’s 1964 Freedom Day, when he was a 14-year-old civil rights activist demanding voting rights for all. He joined with hundreds of others across the beleaguered city. He was a child, unable to use the very powers he sought for others, who nevertheless risked his own liberty to demand justice.
There will be elections all across the country this November, and like my father 50 years ago, we will be called to participate and vote; in the process, we will be standing for those who will remain voiceless if we do not. Our response to that call will be our legacy half a century from now. Did we balk at the difficult beginnings of a transformed health system that will give millions the ability to live better without fear of economic ruin? Have we ignored the attempts to cut the fabric of our social safety net, distracted by stereotypes and rigid ideology? Did our votes go uncounted because we refused to secure the unnecessary - but required - identification?
The power of the vote is more than a right or an obligation. It is a powerful tool. In the proper hands, our votes alter the nature of our communities and our nation, much as my father’s protest helped change Mississippi.
I live in Georgia now, a frontline for civil rights and the right to vote. Each Election Day is a call from my father’s 14-year old self across the lines of race and class and geography that might separate us. It is his call that I urge each of us to honor in 2014.
Let’s call Election Day by its rightful name beginning this year – for if we are willing to act, every Election Day has the chance to be our very own Freedom Day.
Stacey Abrams is the Georgia House Minority Leader and represents the 89th district, which includes the city of Atlanta.
Forty nine years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the White House to discuss the importance of the Voting Rights Act. Six months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law.