Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

24 posts categorized "Unemployment"

Two Million Desperate for Congress to Reinstate Unemployment Insurance

'Unemployment Office' photo (c) 2011, Bytemarks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Robin Stephenson

Right now, it's OK to sound like a broken record--we have to keep telling Congress to extend emergency unemployment insurance (EUC) until they do it. At the beginning of the week, we sent out an action alert asking you to contact your senators again. The Senate is expected vote on EUC, for the third time, any day now.

More than 2 million long-term unemployed people are holding out hope that the bill will pass this time. For those who have been out of work for more than six months, the future looks bleak. Many have been telling their stories on Twitter, using the hashtag #RenewUI--Brian, a 36-year-old with a business degree is now homeless after losing his unemployment benefits. Others talk to reporters. Ricardo Gomez, a 51-year-old father of four, told CNN Money that after losing his job as a facilities specialist last year, he is desperate for any work. If Congress had not failed to reinstate EUC earlier in the year, Gomez could be receiving benefits that would help support his family as he looks for work. Instead, he is expecting an eviction notice.

Long-term unemployment, especially for older Americans, is a persistent problem--leaving people without aid only exacerbates it. In a recent video piece, CNN Money profiles Harry Thomson, who has two college degrees and 21 years of experience, but has been unable to find work in more than a year.  The mental stress only adds to financial worries for job seekers like Thomson as they struggle to stay positive. And last week, Brookings Institution released a paper outlining a trend toward increasing irrelevancy for the long-term unemployed in the labor market. Their skills deteriorate the longer they are not working, the research finds.

The last time Congress looked to reinstate EUC, it failed to pass because of a single vote. This time the bill must pass the Senate and we have to send a strong message to the House, which will take it up next, that our nation cannot continue to leave the long-term unemployed out in the cold. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators right now! Urge them to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

We must continue to repeat the message to Congress to reinstate EUC– more than 2 million people are waiting in desperation.

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


Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them 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.

Act Now: Senate Voting This Week on Unemployment Insurance


By Eric Mitchell

The Senate is about to attempt again to extend unemployment insurance, and this time it may have the votes to pass it! But it will be close.

As early as tomorrow, the Senate may vote on a new bipartisan deal that would reinstate aid for the 2 million people who have been cut off from long-term unemployment assistance.

Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators right now! Urge them to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

Last time, the Senate was one vote short. But now we have a chance to pass a bill and send a strong message to the House.

Over 2 million unemployed workers have been cut off from aid since emergency unemployment assistance expired on December 28. If Congress doesn't extend emergency unemployment insurance, then 5 million people will see their assistance end in 2014. For so many people spending hours each day searching for a job, this aid ensures that they and their families don't go hungry during a hard spell of unemployment.

Please take just two minutes to call or email your members of Congress. Tell them to vote for extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Your calls, emails, and prayers can make the difference.

Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.

Sen. Kirk Signals Support for Jobless Aid as Clergy Letter Tops 100 Signatures

'Unemployment Office' photo (c) 2011, Bytemarks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Zach Schmidt

In mid-February, a dozen clergy from Chicago’s North Shore and South Side began signing and circulating a letter calling on Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to reinstate emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), which expired last December. Sen. Kirk had previously voted “no” twice, even though Illinois struggles with the third highest unemployment rate in the nation (8.9 percent). A group of clergy—led by Rabbi Ike Serotta of Lakeside Congregation in Highland Park (Sen. Kirk’s hometown) and Rev. Brian Roots of Christ United Methodist in Deerfield—have also asked for a meeting, so that they can tell Sen. Kirk in person why his vote is important to them. We will continue pushing for this meeting.

One month later, our list of religious leaders has grown tenfold, and Sen. Kirk has put his name on a bipartisan bill to extend EUC! We are excited about this victory, and we thank Sens. Kirk and Durbin for working together to help craft a short-term compromise that will bring relief to the more than 120,000 Illinoisans (and 2 million Americans) who have been cut off from this vital assistance.

But our work is not finished! The Senate is on recess next week, and the bill will not receive a vote until after the Senate is back in session on March 24, so we need to continue calling on Sen. Kirk to vote “yes” until it happens. Plus, this is a retroactive, five-month bill, so our long-term unemployed neighbors will again face an expiration of emergency assistance at the end of May. We also need to encourage our U.S. representatives to extend EUC, as the House will consider the issue once it passes the Senate.

There are still three job seekers for every job available in the United States, and until the economic recovery truly reaches our neighbors, we will continue calling on Sen. Kirk to support EUC—for the good of our communities and for the good of Illinois.

If you are a religious leader in Illinois, please sign and share our letter.

If you have been personally impacted by the expiration of EUC, we want to hear from you. Please share your story at the Circle of Protection "Faces and Facts" website.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Time for Change: Reinstate Emergency Unemployment Benefits

6999667955This Sunday, we started the day with a time change, as we "sprang forward" by an hour, but for nearly 2 million long-term unemployed workers, time continues to stand still as they wait for Congress to reinstate emergency unemployment benefits (EUC). 

Within the next couple of weeks, the Senate is expected to vote on an extension to EUC. For many of who have been laid off during these tough economic times, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work. The Senate has failed to pass an extension twice now, and while the partisan bickering over dollars stalls action, the long-term unemployed continue to have trouble making ends meet.

After a recent editorial urging the reinstatement of the extension, The Seattle Times received hundreds of stories from laid-off workers trying to find jobs. Below is an excerpt from Todd Martin's submission. In September 2013, Martin was laid off from his job as a wildlife biologist. His tale of financial and mental struggle is common of the stories sent to the newspaper.

I have had many interviews, but none have yet ended in a job offer. Believe me, if you have not been through this experience of being laid off and searching for work, it is not only a full-time endeavor, it also barely pays the bills (and I am a single person with no dependents, no debt, no mortgage). It also takes its toll on one’s mental and physical health, going through bouts of depression and feelings of self-worth. In four weeks, my unemployment insurance will run out. It’s a scary prospect to not have any income coming in when I have been trying so hard, day in and day out to find employment in my field.

If Congress reinstates EUC, Martin will have more time to devote looking for work. The EUC program was enacted in June 2008, when the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. Last Friday, the Department of Labor released its latest figures, which show U.S. unemployment at 6.7 percent--this is the weakest job market since World War II.

If the last vote is any indication of how events may unfold with the upcoming third vote, a single senator could decide a final outcome. Faith leaders in Chicago sent a letter to Sen. Mark Kirk last week, urging the Republican from Illinois to reinstate benefits. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana could also hold possible swing votes that could pass the legislation. 

This week, as people grumble about having to wake up and report to work one hour earlier, we must remember the long-term unemployed who lost their safety-net when EUC expired, and continue to look for jobs. As members of the faith community, we should not turn our backs on them. Even if your senators are on record with a vote to renew benefits, still call them and tell them they have your support. Call 800-826-3688, or send a personal email, and urge both your senators to renew EUC. If you are on Twitter, you can also tag your senator and amplify the message using the #RenewUI hashtag.

Chicago-area Clergy Call on Sen. Mark Kirk to Help Illinois’ Unemployed


By Zach Schmidt

More than 100 religious leaders from the North Shore and elsewhere in the Chicago area have sent a letter to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), calling on him to help families struggling with unemployment. The clergy have asked Sen. Kirk to support the extension of emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), a federal program that provides unemployment aid after state benefits have been exhausted. This aid helps families pay bills and put food on the table, while they seek work in a difficult job market. EUC expired last December, and Congress has so far been unable to reinstate it, causing more than 2 million people to lose this vital assistance, including more than 110,000 from Illinois.

Sen. Kirk has twice voted against reinstating EUC, even though the unemployment rate in Illinois is 8.9 percent—the third highest in the nation. The last vote, which happened in February, fell one vote short of passage. Sen. Kirk’s “no” is widely seen as decisive in killing that bill, and he will hold the key vote when the Senate again considers the bill, which may be as early as next week. [Update, 3/13: On March 13, Sen. Kirk added his name to a bipartisan bill to restore EUC. This issue will remain important in the weeks ahead, and we are still gathering signatures.]

Clergy in Illinois: to add your signature, please send your title, name, congregation, and email address to Zach Schmidt at zschmidt@bread.org.

The letter and signatures follow.

Continue reading "Chicago-area Clergy Call on Sen. Mark Kirk to Help Illinois’ Unemployed " »

More than Snow Keeping Nearly 2 Million from Work

DC Snow by RobynBy Robin Stephenson

Today’s snow day is an inconvenience for members of Congress who can’t get to work, but the snow cannot be blamed for the fact that they have been frozen by inaction around renewing emergency unemployment benefits. That Congress continues to leave 2 million job seekers out in the cold without help, while the market is still weak, is irresponsible and unacceptable.

While senators bicker over how to pay for the extension, 38-year-old former medical biller Trista Selmar-Steed wonders how she can pay for basic necessities, like food. While senators talk about the deficit, Illinois resident Jennifer listens as her phone rings with calls from bill collectors, but no job offers. Without benefits, she doesn’t have access to the resources that could help her find a job, she recently told PBS Newshour. 

The stories of the long-term unemployed all follow a similar path – downhill. Congress can change that by reinstating their benefits. These are people who once got up and went to work each day, paid their bills, and contributed to the economy, but now live the daily nightmare of unemployment. An estimated 200,000 are veterans, and new people are joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed everyday.

There are still three applicants for each job opening in this country; the United States has not reached full employment and January’s jobs report shows growth is anemic and wages are lagging.

For the third time, the Senate is expected to vote on extending unemployment insurance this week. A few weeks ago, Congress failed to advance this bill by just one vote. It is likely that one vote will again determine the outcome. It is also likely that one of three Republicans holds that decision in his hands: Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, or Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. They must hear from constituents, as well as their colleagues, and be urged to do the right thing.

If your senators are on record with a vote to renew benefits, still call them and tell them they have your support. You may even ask them to reach out to their colleagues Kirk, Portman, and Coats, and ask them to vote to renew emergency unemployment benefits (EUC) immediately. If you are from Indiana, Illinois or Ohio, it is even more urgent that you call 800-826-3688, or send a personal email.

It is easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to drive an ambulance to the bottom, goes the adage. Each week that passes without action, more and more Americans are headed in the wrong direction when Congress could easily act on their behalf and help them change course.

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

Photo: Washington D.C. March 3, 2013 (courtesy of Robyn Johnson).

The American Nightmare: Long-Term Unemployment

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)
By Robin Stephenson

Updated: February 27

Too many families are watching the American dream unraveling right before their eyes. Their stories follow a pattern: after years of hard work, a job is lost. Hundreds of applications are filled out, but employers are slow to hire – especially if a job seeker has been out of work for a while. Savings fill the paycheck gap, but soon the savings are gone and then the retirement account is drained. For the first time, they find themselves standing in line at a food pantry and signing up for food stamps; they do everything they can, but the phone does not ring with a job offer. Long-term unemployment has become the American nightmare.

Emergency unemployment insurance for those who have been jobless for longer than 26 weeks expired in late December, and Congress has done nothing.

On February 6, in yet another close vote, the Senate failed to advance a bill to renew emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) by one vote. Passage could have helped 1.7 million job seekers who are struggling to survive without a paycheck — or an unemployment check. The Senate will try again, with another vote on extending unemployment insurance expected in the next few days.

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 long-term unemployment rate remains twice as high as any time Congress has let emergency unemployment benefits expire.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) voted "no", even though 48,485 Ohioans have been cut off from their unemployment benefits. His could have been the vote that would've helped his constituent Vince Congiglio, an IT professional who is looking for work.

“I worked for a living—I paid into the system my entire life,” 53-year-old Congiglio told an MSNBC reporter after yesterday’s vote. “The first time in my life I ask for something, I get punched square in the gut.”

Another surprising "no" vote came from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Illinois has an unemployment rate of 8.6%, significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.6%. Kirk has 99,000 constituents who desperately need an extension of unemployment benefits. He has said he would vote for an extension with a cost offset, which the legislation included, but apparently changed his mind. The congressional gridlock around extending unemployment benefits won’t help unemployed teacher Diana O’Conner; she needs solutions.

O'Connor, a constituent of Kirk's, lost her job last February. “We are not out of work because we are lazy,” O’Connor told The Chicago Tribune. Her story is a reminder that job loss can happen to anyone. "I'm your sister, I'm your neighbor, somebody you go to church with,” she said.

The final vote tally was 58-40. In a procedural move that allows the bill to be reintroduced at a later date, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed his vote to "no."

Congress goes back to the negotiating table, while for millions in America — and 72,000 more each week — the nightmare continues.

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


Call Now! Senate to Vote Tomorrow on Unemployment


By Eric Mitchell

Tomorrow the Senate will vote on whether to consider reinstating emergency unemployment insurance for the more than 1.7 million unemployed workers who have seen their aid lapse in recent weeks. For many of these jobless individuals, this assistance is their only source of income as they struggle to find work — and feed their families.

Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators today! Urge them to vote yes on extending unemployment insurance!

This proposal extends unemployment insurance through March, is retroactive to Dec. 28 (when long-term aid expired), and it is completely paid for. The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a motion to advance the bill. We believe they are just a couple of votes shy!

Take two minutes right now and call or email your senators and urge them to VOTE YES on extending unemployment insurance.

Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.

Renew Unemployment: This is Getting Desperate

Janitorial 2
Each week Congress does not act, 72,000 people lose the emergency unemployment benefits that help support their families as they search for work (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World).

By Eric Mitchell

The situation is getting desperate. More than 1.6 million unemployed workers have now been cut off from emergency unemployment insurance. For many of them, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work.

Last night, President Obama made a powerful call to reinstate unemployment insurance. But there's a voice that's even more powerful to members of Congress — yours!

Call (800-826-3688) or email your members of Congress today! Tell them to reinstate unemployment insurance without delay!

Every day that Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, it becomes harder to reinstate necessary assistance. We cannot give up on the unemployed, and neither should Congress! Unemployment insurance helps people look for work, put food on the table, and keep their homes. It provides a sense of security during difficult and stressful times.

Urge your representative and your senators to press on until unemployed workers see their insurance extended.

Call or email your members of Congress today, and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Hunger and Poverty in the State of the Union Address

Obama1During last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama focused on income inequality and the growing opportunity gap in America—a regular theme of his recent speeches. “Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success,” he said. “But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

While the president said the word “poverty" only three times, and made no mention of hunger, his speech still referenced several issues relevant to ending hunger and poverty—such as restoring unemployment insurance for those who’ve lost benefits since Jan. 1, and bolstering the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of our government’s most effective anti-poverty measures.

Much of the speech tracked closely with Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, and Bread for the World's work to end hunger at home and abroad..

Below are five quotes from last night's State of the Union address that touched on hunger and poverty issues, and a brief look at how those remarks connect to Bread’s 2014 legislative agenda.

Unemployment Insurance

“I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy," said Obama. "But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

Bread for the World and its advocates are pushing Congress to immediately reinstate unemployment insurance, and help Americans who rely on their unemployment checks to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads while they continue to look for work. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

Minimum wage

“[I]f you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” said the president, after promising that he would give an estimated 560,000 federal contract workers a wage increase to $10.10. He then urged Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill and raise the federal minimum wage.

Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, outlines a plan to end hunger in America by 2030, and increasing minimum wage is a critical component. The report urged the president to reform federal contracting policies as an important first step. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families, yet 28 percent of U.S. jobs pay poverty-level wages.

Earned Income Tax Credit

“There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the earned income tax credit," Obama said. "Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans, like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids.  So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.”

Bread for the World supports strengthening the EITC, a refundable tax credit that helps low-income families.  Read more about EITC, and how it helps families.


“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year."

Bread for the World firmly believes that immigration reform will reduce poverty and hunger, and is advocating for comprehensive, compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship. Read more about Bread for the World’s immigration work, and our latest update on how Congress will address reform in 2014.

Food Aid

During the State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of work in Africa that would “help end extreme poverty,” and talked about the United States “extending a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines.” He did not, however, explicitly mention U.S. food aid or food aid reform.

Bread for the World is pushing for smart reforms to U.S. food aid, which does so much good around the world, but simple changes could ensure that the food aid does even more for people in—with no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on much-needed reform to U.S. food aid. Learn more about U.S. food aid and why reform is so critical.

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