Iowans split as U.S. House votes to extend unemployment benefits

On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009, which “would extend unemployment insurance benefits by 13 weeks in states that have jobless rates above 8.5 percent.” 27 states and the District of Columbia have unemployment rates exceeding that level.

The bill easily passed by a vote of 331 to 83, but as you can see from the roll call, Iowa’s House delegation was divided in an unusual way. Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) were among the 17 Democrats who voted against the bill. They opposed it because unemployed Iowans would be ineligible for the extended benefits. Although our state has the eighth-lowest unemployment rate in the country, we also have pockets of higher unemployment, especially in rural areas.

After the jump I’ve posted statements released by Braley and Boswell on this bill. Boswell noted that four counties in the third Congressional districts have unemployment rates above 9 percent. Braley noted, “When you’re unemployed, it doesn’t matter to you what your state’s unemployment rate is.  What matters is that you need to support your family.”

Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) did not vote yesterday, because he was meeting with Fema Administrator Craig Fugate and various state and local officials in Cedar Rapids to discuss flood recovery efforts. I contacted his office for comment on the unemployment bill. His spokesperson Sabrina Siddiqui told me that Loebsack had serious concerns about the way Iowans were excluded from the extended unemployment benefits, adding that Loebsack is working with House leaders to address the needs of unemployed Iowans in future legislation.

Extending unemployment benefits during a severe recession is good policy, not only to help struggling families, but because spending on unemployment benefits has a very high economic stimulus “bang for the buck.” That said, it’s unfair to penalize unemployed Iowans for the fact that our state is faring better than many others on the jobs front.

Iowa’s Republicans in the U.S. House were also divided on this bill, with Tom Latham (IA-04) voting yes and Steve King (IA-05) voting no.

Statement from Bruce Braley’s office on September 22:

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) today broke with his party to oppose the Unemployment Compensation Act (H.R. 3548) because the legislation would exclude unemployed Iowa workers from receiving a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.  The bill passed the House 331-83.

HR 3548 extends unemployment benefits to unemployed workers by 13 weeks, but only in states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher. At 6.8 percent, Iowa’s unemployment rate falls well below the bill’s requirement, despite the fact that 19 Iowa counties have unemployment rates higher than 8.5 percent.  These high-unemployment counties tend to be located in rural areas of the state.

“When you’re unemployed, it doesn’t matter to you what your state’s unemployment rate is.  What matters is that you need to support your family,” said Braley.  “Extending unemployment benefits is important to help people in this recession, but rural Iowans suffer from much higher unemployment than the Iowa average.  I opposed this bill because it’s unfair to deny assistance to people just because they happen to live in rural areas.”

For more information on the Unemployment Compensation Act, visit….

Statement from Leonard Boswell’s office on September 22:

Boswell Releases Statement on the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Leonard Boswell released the following statement on the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009, which passed the House by a vote of 331-83.

“I understand the hardships of the families and individuals who have lost their jobs in those states with an unemployment rate above 8.5 percent. I hear their struggles echoed in the stories of my own unemployed constituents in the 3rd Congressional District of Iowa. The entire country has felt the impact of near-economic collapse.”

“It is for this reason that I cannot support a bill that does not view unemployment as a shared hurt. Iowa has an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent, but four counties in my District have an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent and climbing. Any legislation that extends unemployment benefits must be applied equally.”

Iowa Workforce Development reported unemployment rates in the 3rd Congressional District as of August 2009 as follows:

–          Mahaska County, 10.9 percent

–          Marion County, 9.6 percent

–          Monroe County, 9.5 percent

–          Jasper County, 9.2 percent

–          Keokuk County, 8 percent

–          Poweshiek County, 7.2 percent

–          Tama County, 6.8 percent

–          Lucas County, 6.5 percent

–          Polk County, 6.2 percent

–          Benton County, 6 percent

–          Iowa County, 5.9 percent

–          Grundy County, 5.6 percent

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