Dems urge GOP to extend emergency unemployment benefits

Nov 20, 2013

House and Senate Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday for a $25 billion, one-year extension of emergency unemployment benefits that are set to start expiring Dec. 28 and would result in keeping nearly 3.2 million beneficiaries by June, including 130,000 in Michigan.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the top member of the Ways and Means Committee, said Democrats were trying to move the issue to the “front burner” in the face of persistently high employment. He noted the United States still has about 1.5 million fewer jobs than when the recession began in December 2007.

“The holiday present from this Congress must not be an empty box,” Levin said. “This is a human crisis for hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, noted the unemployment rate in Michigan remains high. She said talks are underway in the Finance Committee between Republicans and Democrats.

“It’s very much about the economy,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, was skeptical of the idea.

“It appears Mr. Levin is deeply dissatisfied with the Obama ‘recovery’ and continues to believe that extending unemployment benefits — for a 13th time — somehow creates jobs,” Camp spokeswoman Allie Walker said in a statement. “As we have seen again and again, that hasn't happened. After a record five and half years of this ‘temporary’ program and $265 billion spent, people need more than reruns of failed policy — they need policies that will actually lead to a paycheck.”

The legislative move came as Michigan reported that the state’s unemployment rate remained steady at 9.0 percent in October, 1.7 percentage points above the national 7.3 percent average. The state has 423,000 people out of work, compared with 422,000 in October 2012, according to seasonally adjusted figures. That’s because more people have joined or returned to the workforce than the 77,000 jobs created during the last year.

In Michigan, 44,000 people will lose benefits on Dec. 28 if benefits aren’t extended — and another 86,500 would lose benefits by June. In Michigan, maximum benefits have fallen dramatically in the past two years from 99 weeks to 48.6, which includes 28.6 weeks of emergency assistance. Last week, the White House endorsed extending benefits.

Without action, 1.3 million people would lose benefits on Dec. 28 and another nearly 1.9 million over the next six months.

Many Republicans have called on Congress to let emergency benefits expire.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program has been in place since 2008, when the recession began. The number of weeks of federal benefits has been substantially reduced during the last two years.

Since 2008, 24 million people have received $252 billion in emergency benefits, according to a GOP study released in October.

The report said the program, “which has already added too much to the deficit, and helped keep unemployment too high for too long — should be allowed to finally come to an end.”

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