Across the county there is deep concern for the approximately 1.3 million Americans who have received long extended federal unemployment benefits as these extensions ended this past Saturday. Those who have come to rely on these unemployment benefits now face a very harsh reality.
While some have referred to this end as a "sudden halt," that really is not the case. It was part of a negotiated budget deal. Yet, time went by as it often does on the national level and we get down to the eleventh hour when suddenly it becomes huge national news.
The problem is the system, which continues to extend these benefits over and over again so that people continue to count on them. In fact, government officials continue to bank on them as they view and report on the "recovering" U.S. economy. If an extension is not granted, economists worry about the impact on the U.S. economy as individuals and families who are accustomed to this federal income will not have it to spend.
So, we are now back to what some feel will be another "showdown" in Congress as the deadline extension is debated. However, isn't it time to change the system?
Unemployment benefits went from 26 weeks of state support to up to 99 weeks with federal support at the height of the recession, with the most recent extension allowing up to 73 weeks. It gives people a very long time to seek jobs at the level they once had. But, many of those jobs are not available anymore and the jobs that are available pay less. So, how long do we continue to pay for someone's unemployment when that someone is employable but holding out for an income level of the past that may or may not return?
Unemployment is an important and necessary stopgap program. At question is how long the benefits should last. If Congress restores the additional 47 weeks of extra federal coverage in 2014 (beyond the state coverage of 26 weeks), it will cost $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Who foots the bill for that? We do, as working class taxpayers. The middle class is having to work even harder to keep shoring up this system and a larger government, and small business are still hurting.
Conducting business in Hawaii is very tough and countless small businesses have reported that Obamacare has only made things worse. Many are wondering when their relief will come and ask, "Who pays for all of this if we stop working?"
At the chamber, we are starting to see a new trend where business owners are choosing to get out of their business a decade or so earlier than expected (with many closing their doors) due to Hawaii's business climate, well established as one of the worst in the nation to do business in. They say it is getting worse, not better, and are tired of working so hard and risking a great deal for very little return.
This country was founded by great entrepreneurs and it is well established that small businesses are the best job generators. So, why not invest in small-business growth so that we can spur more jobs and new entrepreneurs. There are already too many people competing for the jobs available today, so the answer is more new jobs.
We can start by eliminating unnecessary regulation, streamlining permitting, reducing burdensome fees, helping small businesses access needed capital, and providing more incentives for job creation.
Having people rely on a broken system is not the answer. Innovation and entrepreneurship work and that's what we should be investing in.
* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.