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Staying Afloat in a Recovery

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For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.

Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.

Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November.  “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”

While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.

The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.

Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.

Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.

During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.

 

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