Texas Lawmakers Disagree On Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits expired last month for 1.3-million Americans, 64,000 in Texas. The issue of extending the benefits has two Houston lawmakers on opposite sides of the discussion.

Democratic lawmakers are optimistic they have the 60 votes needed to advance unemployment legislation, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but that battle could wage on Capitol Hill for some time.

During a stop at the Houston Food Bank, Houston Congressman Gene Green says many residents through no fault of their own, suffer from food insecurity.

“The Federal Emergency Unemployment insurance expired at the end of 2013. Congress adjourned before extending that program, and when we go back into session tomorrow, we need to put as an emergency item, both extending unemployment, but also passing an agriculture bill that actually treats food stamps and nutrition fairly.”

He says food assistance is vital for at least one segment of the population.

“It is not a comfort zone. It’s a survival and sometimes not a very good survival as I can tell you from a lot of case work that we’ve done in our office. Particularly for seniors, who worked all their life, but didn’t make a lot of money, and they’re just surviving on basically low Social Security, and so they have to have the food stamp program and what the Food Bank offers.”

Dionne Hoffman says is one of the thousands struggling to find a job.

“I have a college degree and I can’t even get a full time job. I can’t even afford the gas to go anywhere, try to find a job. It’s hard out there.”

Houston Food Bank president Brian Greene says the issue of food insecurity isn’t just something that families without jobs deal with.

“According to the Census Bureau, two-thirds of the households who are food insecure, have an adult with a full-time job. This is because too many of the jobs that we have, they’re just low-wage jobs. And then when they have to make cuts, food becomes the issue. That’s why they’re here.”  

Even if the Senate passes legislation to extend S.N.A.P., it faces an uphill battle in the House. Woodlands Republican Congressman Kevin Brady thinks the Emergency Unemployment (Compensation) program has run its course.

“It’s time now, to focus on the American economy, to create the jobs that economists and business leaders tell us will be created if Washington only gets out of the way. And the bill the Senate is considering of course, would add several billion dollars to our dangerous deficits, without creating one job, to help people who can’t find jobs.”

House Republicans say the $6.4 billion dollar cost of extending benefits another three months should be paid for with measures that also reduce the deficit.