Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

24 posts categorized "Unemployment"

A Midterm Winner: Raising the Minimum Wage

 

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A woman cleans an office in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Regardless of whether your candidate won a seat in Congress yesterday, one thing was made clear during the 2014 midterm elections: raising the minimum wage is a popular issue with voters - an issue that crosses partisan divides.

Yesterday, ballot measures to increase the minimum wage passed in Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, and South Dakota.  Since 2013, 13 states have opted to raise their minimum wage.  The momentum is building.

A full-time job should pay enough to support a family. For too many, it does not – but that is slowly changing as voters speak up in state after state.  However, a real path to ending wage stagnation and income inequality in the United States requires Congress to do its part.

Raising the minimum wage is no small accomplishment for workers like Gregory Stewart, 36, of Little Rock, Ark., who wants to provide for his daughters. He works two jobs and still depends on family support.  Raising the minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017 will help the Stewarts. Closing the wage gap is a first step in moving Arkansas away from the label as hungriest state.

Republican senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, the senator-elect for Arkansas, now have an opportunity to do even more for families like the Stewarts.  They should help pass a federal minimum wage that gives all workers a fair deal.

In 2014, Congress failed to act at the federal level. In April, the Senate failed to pass The Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737). The bill would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, index it for inflation, and raise the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the general minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25, translating to a $15,080 annual salary for a full-time worker, and has not been increased since 2009, even though the cost of living has risen.  If the minimum wage had kept up with U.S. productivity growth since 1950, it would be $18.67 today.  This year's Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, points out that 28 percent of U.S. workers earn poverty-level wages.

“Too many workers in this country face hard times as a result of insufficient wages,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a press release earlier this year. “There is no reason that full-time workers should struggle to provide for their families.”

We are likely to see The Minimum Wage Fairness Act come up for a vote again.  This time, perhaps Congress will be listening and give American workers a fair deal.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Arkansas: The Hungriest State

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Congress should raise the minimum wage so that a full-time, year-round worker can support a family of four above the poverty line. (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World).

By Alyssa Casey

A decent home life and three good meals a day is what Gregory Stewart, 36, of Little Rock, Arkansas wants to provide for his daughters. Yet in order to provide the basics, even though he works two jobs at minimum wage, Stewart told The Newshour he had to move in with his extended family.

Struggling to make ends meet is not uncommon in the state designated as the hungriest in the United States. In 2013, more than 1 in 5 Arkansas households were at risk of hunger. More than 19 percent of Arkansans lived in poverty, including more than 1 in 4 children. If you visualize five houses or apartments neighboring yours, at least one of those households struggles with hunger. And in your child’s class of 32, more than eight of his or her fellow students live in poverty.

When we hear such staggering statistics, two questions often come to mind: Why are hunger and poverty so high in Arkansas? And what can be done to change this?

Hunger and poverty are complex issues that lack a simple cause or silver bullet solution. However, Bread for the World’s research shows that unemployment and low wages tell part of the story.

Currently 6.3 percent of Arkansans are unable to find work. This is down from 7.3 percent a year ago, but still higher than the pre-recession level of just over 5 percent. Even if unemployment rates drop, low wages often mean that a full-time job is not enough to keep a family out of poverty.

Across the United States, most of the jobs added during the economic recovery have been low-wage jobs. Arkansas echoes this trend. The median annual salary – the middle point in Arkansas’ salary range – is $37, 340. Eight of the ten occupations expected to add the most jobs in Arkansas through 2015 will pay $10,000 less than the median salary.

With a minimum wage of $6.25 per hour, Arkansas is one of three states with a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 per hour. When state and federal laws have different wages, the higher standard does apply. However, even someone working full-time, year-round at $7.25 per hour earns an annual income more than $8,000 below the federal poverty line to support a family of four. While legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to raise the federal minimum wage, the Senate bill failed to pass and the House never even brought their bill to a vote.

The Arkansas Senate race between incumbent Mark Pryor and U.S. Representative Tom Cotton is considered a toss up, but whoever wins should use their position to end hunger. With such important races likely to be decided by only a few votes, Arkansans have a unique opportunity to influence a path out of poverty and help families like the Stewarts who are hungry for jobs that pay a living wage.

As these candidates canvas the state and ask for your vote, ask them what their plan is to address hunger and poverty in Arkansas. Look at their recent votes on hunger and poverty issues. If they are voting to end hunger, thank them. If not, ask them to explain their votes against policies that would help make hunger history.

With all of us pitching in by demanding accountability from our elected officials – whichever state you live in - Bread for the World believes we can end hunger in communities across the country by 2030.

See how hunger and poverty are affecting the 10 hungriest and poorest states.

Alyssa Casey is Bread for the World’s government relations coordinator.

Slight Decline in Poverty Rate, Still Millions Live Below Poverty Line

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According to a Census Bureau report released today, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent. (Todd Post)

The good news is we are making progress on poverty in America. However, the economic recovery is leaving too many Americans behind.

More than 45 million Americans—14.5 percent—lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to a Census Bureau report released today. Poverty decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.

There is still more to do. The faithful must continue to advocate for even more progress against hunger and poverty, especially during an election year.

Poverty rates are still disproportionately high among Hispanics and African-Americans: 23.5 percent of Hispanics and 27.1 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line.

Mothers like Jacqueline Christian, who try to make ends meet on minimum wage, still wait to feel the effects of the economic recovery. National Geographic told Christian’s story in the article The New Faces of Hunger published last July.

Christian makes $7.25 an hour working full time as a home health aid in Houston, Texas. She and her two sons, who struggle to get enough to eat, were living in a homeless shelter at the time the article was published.

Recent gains in employment, with 2.8 million people returning to the labor market, have helped decrease poverty in America. Wages, however, continue to stagnate for those who have jobs. Low-income employment like Christian’s doesn’t pay a living wage.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2013 the top 5 percent of workers saw their wages rise by 1 percent while the bottom 60 percent saw hourly wages fall by 4-6 percent. Higher incomes among high-wage earners and corporations have mainly shown up in higher stock prices, and companies have been slow to invest in the real economy. 

As the economy improves, our elected officials must craft policy to ensure that we don’t leave large groups of Americans behind—people like Jacqueline Christian, who works full time but can’t meet her family’s basic needs.

Encouraged by progress and recent public discourse by both parties about ending hunger and poverty in America, Bread for the World’s President David Beckmann says Congress should focus on employment and reducing income inequality.

“The best defense against hunger and poverty is reliable work,” Beckmann said in a statement to the press today. “As the mid-term election draws near, we must vote for leaders who are committed to increasing job opportunities and pray that their actions are guided by compassion and justice so that we can continue to reduce hunger and poverty.”

Thursday, the Census Bureau will release state-level data.

 

Labor Day: More Than a Three-Day Weekend

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Ofelio, owner of a tamale business in Washington, D.C., is featured in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

Barbeques, the end of summer, and a three-day weekend are what Labor Day means for most Americans. For me, the welcome work break was a chance to catch up on neglected household chores. Celebrating the contributions of workers to the strength of our nation or thinking about today’s labor market never entered my mind.

That is, until last night.

My neighbor stopped by and mentioned another neighbor who has been out of work for more than a year and still hasn’t found employment. “She is at her wit’s end,” says my friend with exasperation. “She has a college education, is smart and hardworking, and still gets no offers.”

My unemployed neighbor is not alone. There are 3.2 million long-term unemployed, people out of work for more than 27 weeks. Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to more than a million job seekers. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.

My neighbor’s misfortune affects all of us. Lost productivity to the labor market decreases pressures on wages, which is why many Americans have not seen raises in the last few years. High unemployment means lost productivity and lost tax revenue, causing additional spending by the federal government to fill in the gaps.

There are signs that things are getting better. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The jobless rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, has still not reached pre-2008 levels. Today the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, although some economists call the number deceptively low. Full employment is a job rate below 5 percent and indicates that anyone who wants to work can find a job.

Infographic_FullEmploymentThe federal government has a role to play in strengthening the labor market and getting the long-term unemployed back to work. The best solution to ending hunger is a job that pays. The number of low-income households could be cut by more than half if a full-time job were available for everyone who wanted one.  

The 2014 Hunger Report proposes bold steps to end hunger in the United States by 2030. Returning the economy closer to the full employment level of 2000, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017.

A first step to full employment includes policies that stimulate the economy as part of a budget strategy instead of the job-killing cuts, such as the automatic spending caps called sequestration. Congress should also raise the minimum wage. If wages had kept up with productivity growth over the years, the minimum wage today would be $18.67.

Perhaps it is time that Labor Day becomes more than a three-day weekend. Labor Day should be a time of reflection and action—a time to ask how we can get people in America, including my neighbor, back to work and into jobs that pay a living wage.

Robin Stephenson is national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

The Crisis Continues for More Than 3 Million Long-Term Unemployed

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David Beckmann reads Pamela's story on June 16, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot from event video).

By Robin Stephenson

The unemployment crisis is not over – especially if you are one of the long-term unemployed. For Pamela the crisis is never-ending. The 61-year-old from Glenn Springs, S.C., lost her job in December of last year. She says the only silver lining is that her adult children, who live far away, are not there to witness to her downfall.

Rev. David Beckmann read Pamela’s story on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as part of the fifth Witness Wednesday this week. The events, scheduled throughout June and July, are an effort to keep a spotlight on long-term unemployed people by telling their stories. “I feel defeated,” says Beckmann, reading Pamela’s words. She has received no job offers or offers of help from Congress since she lost her job.

Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to over a million job seekers out of work for more than 27 weeks. When unemployment rates are high, lawmakers have always made provisions to help Americans until the economy returns to full employment — namely, by passing EUC. Today, the number of long-term unemployed has ballooned to record levels of more than 3.3 million job seekers.

Job loss turns into a surprising reversal of fortune for many as they watch savings and homes disappear. Some are facing hunger for the first time in their lives and seek help from food banks and local charities. Many, like Pamela, are grateful for programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) that provide access to food that once was easily purchased with a reliable income.   

“The fastest way to reduce hunger in America is to reduce the unemployment rate,” said Beckmann. Investing in jobs and people are strategies outlined in Ending Hunger in America, the 2014 Hunger Report. Investing in a strong safety net is also necessary to chart a path out of hunger by 2030. When hardship does hit, the climb back to security is faster when we activate programs like EUC, which afford job seekers resources so they can concentrate on finding work.

Buoyed by a national trend of improving unemployment rates, some members of Congress feel no pressure to act. The Senate passed a short-term extension in April, which has expired due to an absence of corresponding action in the House. In her July 15 report to the Senate Banking Committee on monetary policy, Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, recommends a cautioned approach when looking at unemployment data. Calling the recovery incomplete, she says, “Labor force participation appears weaker than one would expect based on the aging of the population and the level of unemployment.”

There are still two job seekers for every job opening. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high. Additionally, a slack job market hurts wage growth.

Ignoring the crisis of long-term unemployment won’t make it go away. As long as our government fails to act, persistent hunger will plague too many of our citizens and puts a drain on our economy. As long as advocates fail to force action, we must all share Pamela’s sense of defeat.

Has America Forgotten the Long-Term Unemployed?

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Has America forgotten the long-term unemployed? The House of Representatives doesn't seem too worried as we slip into June — its members still haven't voted on emergency unemployment compensation benefits (EUC).

In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for a five-month retroactive extension, but House Speaker John Boehner has not put the bill on the House floor for a vote. May 31 marked the expiration date of the short-term extension. At the end of last year, Congress failed to renew the emergency program, and Americans unemployed for more than 27 weeks lost vital assistance.

Leaving millions of Americans with no hope and no help is unacceptable. It is also bad economic policy when 3.5 million Americans – many with advanced skills – are pushed out of the labor force, many unlikely to return.

A college degree and steady work history did not guarantee Pennsylvanian Kimberly Chandlee a job. After 30 years of employment, at age 53, the  single mother was laid off in 2013, after her company reorganized. Even with her credentials, and an aggressive search for work, her phone didn't ring with job offers. "I’m either too old, overqualified, or the companies hire within, expanding position responsibility to avoid adding head count,” she said in testimony given on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last month.

Chandlee does not want pity. She wants a job and support to help her find one.

Unemployment rates are falling. TPM reports Speaker Boehner said this good news “should discourage calls for more emergency government stimulus.” However, data shows job seekers out of work for six months or more are not benefiting from decreasing unemployment, which should instill in Congress a greater sense of urgency to act.

Cutting off EUC has made it more difficult for the long-term unemployed, who are now more likely to stand in line to sign up for food stamps than to get into a job fair. Many were depending on EUC to get them through the crisis.  Five Thirty-Eight’s Ben Casselman says that the idea that an improved economy will help the long-term unemployed, or that cutting benefits will push them to look harder for work, does not hold up against the evidence. Instead, the longer one is unemployed, the further they are pushed into the margins of the labor market. 

A Brookings Institute study found only 11 percent of the long-term unemployed returned to full employment within a year. More troubling for the economy, however, is that these displaced workers are no longer putting pressure on wage growth or inflation.

Instead of blaming – and shaming – the unemployed, Congress should take a look at the evidence and pass EUC, and then begin to seriously address the larger problem of long-term unemployment. Chandlee’s story is not a tale of personal woe; it is our collective tragedy. We must act.

“What is going to happen to me now and in the future, if I use all my retirement money to live?” asked an exasperated Chandlee last month. “These are the questions that keep me up at night.” They are questions that should keep members of Congress up at night, too.

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House Republicans are not feeling pressure to pass this bill. We must change that. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your representative today and urge him or her to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

Long-term Unemployed Tell House to Do the Right Thing

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Helen Laurusavage and six other unemployed workers told their stories on the Capitol steps on May 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot, CSPAN video)

They did everything right. They played by the rules. 

Kevin McCarthy, a 38-year-old father of two, got his first job, delivering newspapers, at the age of 12. After six years in the National Guard, the Boonsboro, Md., resident found steady employment in construction and always had good work evaluations. 

Helene Laurusavage, 52, of Sanatoga, Penn., has a degree in physics and is proud of having served in the Air Force. She also enjoyed a successful career as environmental health and safety officer. 

Then, it all fell apart. In shock, both McCarthy and Laurusavage watched their jobs vanish and their dreams crumble. Each received unemployment for the first time in their adult lives. Each thought finding a job would be easy. Now, they are part of the growing segment of the population referred to as the "long-term unemployed," and they are asking Congress for help. “What we have worked so hard for –our American dream–has turned into a nightmare,” Laurusavage said to those gathered for a briefing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 6.

Laurusavage and six others came to tell lawmakers their stories and urge the House to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance (also called emergency unemployment compensation, or EUC), which expired in December. In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for a short-term extension, but House Speaker John Boehner has showed no indication he plans to bring it to the floor for a vote. Each week that passes with no extension, another 72, 000 unemployed Americans lose a vital lifeline of support as they look for work.

Their stories, which are hard to hear, leave one with a sense that nothing is safe.  The old American narrative that promises financial security for hard work is being rewritten. By the end of 2014, the number of long-term unemployed could reach as high as 4.9 million. Unemployment insurance helps job seekers make ends meet as they look for work. But even many of those aggressively seeking employment are not finding work in a labor market still rebounding from the effects of the recession.

Despite a successful history of employment, Laurusavage has applied for 229 jobs and has had 26 interviews, but no offers. Instead, she and her husband have depleted their savings. “Without a renewal of federal unemployment aid, or a job, by the end of May we are done," she said Tuesday. "We’ll have nothing to make our mortgage and we will lose our home.”

McCarthy talked about the emotional toll it takes on a family as he stood at the podium.  Even with his wife working, they are barely making it. He doesn’t know how to explain to his children why he can’t find work.  “There is no explanation except that we are being let down by the people we elected into office," he said. "You have no idea how soul-crushing it is to listen to your daughter tell you how she is a burden."

Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.

McCarthy, Laurusavage, and millions like them did everything right—and now Congress should.

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House Republicans are not feeling pressure to pass this bill. We must change that. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your representative today and urge him or her to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

Advocates Help Push Unemployment Bill Through to House

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Bread for the World advocates during a workshop at the 2013 National Gathering, held June 8-11 in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Jon Gromek

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits by a vote of 50 to 38. If the bipartisan bill passes the next hurdle in the House, it will restore benefits through May, and provide retroactive benefits back to Dec. 28, when EUC expired. More than 2 million out-of-work Americans have been cut off from assistance since the end of last year.

The final passage in the Senate is a testament to the power of advocacy: Bread for the World members made 1,045 calls and sent 24,600 emails to senators. Many people who've been affected by the loss of benefits also told their stories and kept pressure on Congress through social media networks, such as Twitter. Without the loud cry from constituents across the nation, the bill may have died after the first attempt to pass it failed.

Approximately 40,000 people in Ohio are among those who've been cut off from benefits. On March 27, I accompanied Bread members who met with the staff of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in Columbus, Ohio. We relayed our hope that a deal would be reached and a solution implemented—a message the senator also received through calls and emails from across the state. Sen. Portman voted to restore unemployment benefits, and his leadership was critical in crafting the final bill.

In Illinois, where more than 110,000 people have lost benefits, my colleague Zach Schmidt asked several pastors in the state to sign on to a letter urging Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to pass EUC. More than 100 faith leaders— leaders who've see the devastation long-term unemployment has caused in their communities and congregations—responded. Like Sen. Portman, and three other Republicans, Sen. Kirk co-sponsored the legislation, which helped push it through final passage. (See how your senators voted here).

Now, as the bill moves to the House, where its future is uncertain, our advocacy work intensifies. In Ohio, we are already thinking of how we can reach out to Republican legislators who may cast key votes. Ohio Bread members will need to reach out to Reps. Bill Johnson (06), Patrick Tiberi (12), David Joyce (14), Steve Stivers (15), and James Renacci (16). While political observers can wait for Congress to act, our neighbors struggling to find work in a still-weakened economy cannot.

Roll Call reports that House Republicans are not feeling pressure to pass this bill. We must change that. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your representative today and urge him or her to vote to extend unemployment insurance. At the end of the week, House members will leave D.C., and head to their home districts for a two-week recess, providing opportunities for you to engage your representative by attending town hall meetings or setting up an in-district meeting. Your organizer can help you come up with a plan of action.

Bread for the World members in Ohio, Illinois, and other states across the country are thankful for the courage of elected officials like Sens. Kirk and Portman, who are willing to put politics aside and do what is  right for their constituents. And it is clear to us that the strength of your voices in calling on members to renew unemployment made all the difference this round. Let’s do it again.

Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub, at Bread for the World.

Quote of the Day: Abe Gorelick

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A job seeker reads a copy of the California Job Journal as he waits in line to enter the California Job Journal HIREvent February 10, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

"Since my unemployment benefits have run out, I’m just trying to make a little money with these part-time jobs. But, for perspective, if I combined my income from all of them, that would still be half of what my weekly unemployment benefits were."

—Abe Gorelick, a marketing professional with a  master’s in business, who has been unemployed for more than a year. Gorelick told the New York Times that he is currently working three jobs—driving a cab and picking up shifts at Lord & Taylor and Whole Foods—but has still fallen into credit card debt, wiped out his retirement accounts, and has even contemplated selling his house since losing his unemployment benefits.

Gorelick is one of more than 2 million people who are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for more than six months. The obstacles this class of workers face to find employment is even more difficult than it was pre-recession; emergency unemployment insurance is their lifeline.

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits through May, and make them retroactive to the Dec. 28 expiration. As the bill moves over to the House, even more pressure will be needed to push the it through.

Congress must renew emergency unemployment insurance today. Call 800-826-3688 today and tell your senators and representative to act.

Job Market Still Weak as Congress Debates Unemployment Benefits

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Photo credit: www.LendingMemo.com

By Robin Stephenson

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen says the U.S. labor market is still unhealthy, making it difficult for many who lost their jobs during the recession to find adequate employment. In December, Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment (EUC), a program that helps job seekers meet basic needs as they look for work.

Yesterday, during public remarks at a conference in Chicago, Yellen said that although the unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 10 percent in 2009 to a federal average of 6.7 percent, the nation’s unemployment levels are still way above pre-recession levels. And more than 7 million people employed in part-time work would like full-time positions. The slow recovery, Yellen made clear, has still not reached everyone on Main Street.

Over 2 million people are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for more than six months. This figure is the highest it has ever been. And the obstacles this class of workers face to find employment is even more difficult than it was pre-recession. "Research shows employers are less willing to hire the long-term unemployed, and often prefer other job candidates with less or even no relevant experience," said Yellen.

The root problem is a lack of jobs. "No amount of training will be enough if there are not enough jobs to fill,” Yellen stated. A maximum sustainable employment rate should be between 5.2 and 5.6 percent – we still have a long way to go.

For the last several months, I have followed the Twitter hashtag #RenewUI, where many unemployed workers gather for mutual support. As I read stories from people who need Congress to act immediately, the urgency to pass legislation is apparent. For many without benefits, finding work has given way to keeping their homes and their families together.

I met Tracey from Pennsylvania after she tweeted about a job interview she was hoping would bring good news. Tracey said she lost her job in 2012. She is worried about losing her home. As finances got tighter, her children moved in with her parents. Tracey, who worked in staffing for 10 years, told me, “There just aren’t jobs out there.” As the Senate argues about costs, Tracey and the #RenewUI community make it known that their basic needs that can’t wait for months of negotiations and partisanship. “I don’t want to lose my house,” she told me. “And I want to bring my kids home.”

This week, senators continue working on H.R. 3979—a bill to extend benefits through May and make them retroactive to the Dec. 28 expiration. With 30 hours of debate to go, a final vote is expected to come as early as Wednesday. This will be the third time the Senate has voted on a reinstatement. The attempt to pass the extension through bipartisan effort is a testament to mounting pressure from a vocal grassroots. As the bill moves over to the House, even more pressure will be needed to push the it through.

Congress must renew emergency unemployment insurance today. Call 800-826-3688 and tell your senators and representative to act.

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Behind every statistic is a story – and telling those stories can move hearts and minds to action. If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

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