Saperstein: "Over two million newly jobless Americans have struggled for months without these vital benefits and the program cannot be restarted soon enough for these vulnerable families."
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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2014 — In response to the Senate’s passage of a five month extension of federal unemployment benefits, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
After tireless efforts over the last four months from those on both sides of the aisle, we are pleased to see an extension of unemployment benefits pass the Senate. Over two million newly jobless Americans have struggled for months without these vital benefits and the program cannot be restarted soon enough for these vulnerable families.
Congress allowed federal unemployment benefits to lapse at a particularly dire time. According to the Economic Policy Institute, when benefits were allowed to expire in January, the long-term unemployment rate was twice as high as at any other time these benefits expired. Additionally, the overall unemployment rate remained at 6.7% in March, and the rate would have risen to 12.8% if it included Americans who have given up on looking for a job or can only find part-time work.
The Torah and Jewish tradition teach us that providing for those in need is not a matter of charity but an obligation. We learn in Deuteronomy that "If there is a needy person among you… do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient" (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). Judaism also teaches that the highest form of tzedakah is to help another person achieve self-sufficiency. We must help people support themselves by maintaining crucial assistance at this uncertain time.
We urge the Speaker of the House to bring the Senate bill up for a vote and call on all House members to support this vital legislation. Unemployment benefits are not a luxury, but a necessity for millions of American families.