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Linder Opening Statement: Hearing to Evaluate the Response of “Safety Net” Programs

October 08, 2009

Webster’s dictionary defines a safety net as “something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty.” That’s a broad definition, and safety nets come in many forms. Even in these enormously difficult times, 90 percent of Americans count their job as their real safety net, along with family, home, and savings. Those safety nets supply their current income and their confidence in managing an uncertain future.

That contrasts with the government’s less generous and far less secure safety nets, which we will review today. Those include, as the announcement for this hearing suggests, food stamps, unemployment benefits, and welfare checks. 

Some might be cheered that record numbers of our fellow citizens are collecting these government benefits. I am not. What Americans want are jobs. 

It’s not a surprise the other side isn’t talking about jobs today. Americans were promised the 2009 stimulus law would “save or create 3.5 million jobs,” and prevent unemployment from rising above 8 percent. In reality, we lost 2.7 million jobs since then and unemployment is headed for 10 percent and beyond. 

Under President Obama, unemployment and debt have now soared by a combined 50 percent just since January of this year.

Last Friday we saw that again.  Another 263,000 jobs were destroyed in September.
Unemployment rose again, to 9.8 percent.  And 571,000 people – more than the entire population of Atlanta – became so discouraged they stopped looking for work altogether. 

What’s worse, we aren’t even close to the end of this disturbing road.  Last month, Larry Summers, the chair of the President’s National Economic Council, said today’s level of “unacceptably high” unemployment will remain so “for a number of years.”  Officially, the Administration now projects high unemployment through 2014. Other economists project full employment won’t return until 2017. Those predictions don’t count the millions of jobs eliminated if Democrats’ job-killing health, energy, and regulatory plans are enacted. 

And now part of the government safety net is actually turning into its own assault on job creation. The Department of Labor reports unemployment taxes will double nationwide by 2012.  In some places, it’s worse. For example, these taxes on jobs are poised to triple in Maryland, and in Hawaii grow from $90 per worker today to $1,000 next year and $1,500 in 2011. No wonder employers say “We would like to expand and hire but it’s too expensive.” 

Make no mistake. There is a place for short term unemployment and other benefits for those who need temporary help as they make the transition from one job to another. However, this transitional assistance was not designed to be a permanent income source, nor should it be now. Today’s record government benefits are a poor, yet enormously costly, replacement for the real safety net of a job. And jobs are what a staggering 15 million workers want, but this Administration has been woefully incapable of delivering.    

I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses, especially on proposals to get our economy moving again and actually create jobs.