Congress deciding whether to extend jobless benefits

Herald Washington BureauDecember 24, 2013 

WASHINGTON -- A three-month extension of emergency unemployment benefits is gaining momentum.

The Senate is scheduled to take a key procedural vote on that extension when it returns Jan. 6, and the plan has White House as well as some bipartisan support. The Republican-run House of Representatives has been more reluctant to go along.

Democrats plan to spend the holidays pushing hard to get an extension. While regular unemployment benefits will continue, emergency aid for 1.3 million long-term jobless will expire Dec. 28. In high-unemployment states, workers can get as many as 73 weeks of benefits.

The cutoff is "particularly poignant and nearly devastating as we go into the Christmas holidays," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters Monday.

Some Republicans agreed. Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., are chief sponsors of the three-month extension, which would be retroactive.

"Providing a safety net for those in need is one of the

most important functions of the federal government," Heller said.

His state and Reed's have the greatest need for the extra help. Last month, Nevada and Rhode Island both had jobless rates of 9 percent, well above the national average of 7 percent. Some 4.1 million people have been out of work 26 or more weeks. A total of 10.9 million were unemployed last month.

Other Republicans have two concerns. One is that the economy is improving and unemployment rates are dropping.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found 18 states had lower rates last month than the national average, while eight had "measurably higher rates" and 24 had rates "not appreciably different from that of the nation."

"The unemployment rate is coming down. These have been extraordinary extensions, and the Republican position all along is we have to go back to normal at some point," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

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