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August 29, 2014

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Extending jobless insurance crucial

Right now, thousands of Nevadans have the full-time job of looking for employment. People such as Alfordeen Lewis pay their medical bills with unemployment insurance as they search for a job. Others, such as Teresa Avini, race to update their resumes and learn new skills, hoping to land employment in an unfamiliar but growing industry.

All the Nevadans I speak with who are on unemployment insurance are scrambling to make ends meet. No one wants to live on unemployment insurance forever. None of them are lazy.

Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dean Heller have brought Congress one step closer to restoring unemployment benefits for the 17,600 Nevadans who were cut off Dec. 28. Our senators should be commended for their leadership in fighting for a three-month renewal of unemployment benefits through the Senate.

The House of Representatives is another story. When House Republicans issued their calendar of votes for the first week of January, I was dismayed to see that no legislation to extend unemployment insurance was on the docket. There is no time to waste. Every week that Congress stalls, more than 800 additional Nevadans will see their benefits lapse.

Our economy is still recovering from a recession. Despite private-sector job growth over the past three years, there are 1.3 million fewer jobs now than before the beginning of the Great Recession. With unemployment rates stubbornly high, now is not the time to turn our backs on our fellow Americans.

When unemployment insurance expires, it doesn’t just mean those struggling to find jobs are unable to put food on the table or pay the rent; it also means money is extracted from our local economy. In one week alone, the expiration of federal unemployment insurance took more than $5.4 million out of Nevada’s economy.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, those lost dollars translate into lost jobs, and failing to renew unemployment insurance will cost the economy 200,000 jobs this year, including 3,000 jobs in Nevada.

Negligence compounds our unemployment problem: Turning a blind eye to the expiration of benefits adds to the unemployment line and has a big price tag for our economy.

Some members of Congress are demanding that the extension of benefits include “pay-fors.” It is unconscionable and morally obscene to pull the rug out from under Nevadans who lost their jobs at no fault of their own while Congress maintains costly corporate subsidies and loopholes in our tax code. Far too many representatives in Washington, D.C., have no idea what it is like to be unemployed. They don’t understand what it is like to barely make ends meet or lose a job.

Congress could close a number of corporate tax loopholes, such as eliminating tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas.

The United States loses an estimated $150 billion annually to tax-avoidance schemes involving tax havens. Many of our largest and most profitable corporations paid no federal taxes in previous years.

There are solutions, and Congress needs to come together to find a way to extend unemployment insurance. These benefits provide a lifeline to Americans who work hard and play by the rules but lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It is unacceptable that companies with powerful lobbyists can play by a different set of rules and avoid paying their fair share while Nevadans suffer.

Beyond the statistics of this debate are real people’s lives. These struggling Americans are your neighbors, and it’s the American way to lend our hand to a neighbor in need. As our nation recovers from the recession, we need to make sure nobody gets left behind.

Steven Horsford is a Democrat who represents Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.

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