- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008


For a bipartisan majority of senators, providing three months or six months of extra unemployment checks to more than 1 million jobless people is a better way to dig the economy out of a recession than just printing tax rebate checks.

Some economists agree, and undoubtedly, so do the nearly 1.3 million unemployed workers who face losing an average $282 a week in benefits before June.

But there is strong opposition leading up to a Senate vote in the week ahead on whether to add an extension of jobless benefits to a $161 billion House-passed combination of tax rebates and business tax cuts.

Consider Deborah El, a 64-year-old diabetic who lives in Pittsburgh. She will exhaust her 26 weeks of regular benefits this month after being laid off from her job as a program coordinator at a nonprofit literacy agency.

Ms. El is taking care of her 26-year-old disabled daughter, Orissa, while also looking for a job and trying to find a new place to live.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m really scared,” she said. “I’ve never been like this before. I’ve always been employed; I’ve always worked. I went back to school a few years ago and got a master’s degree, but it doesn’t mean anything.”

As the economy has slowed, more people have signed up for jobless benefits. The situation can only get worse given the report last week that employers cut payrolls by 17,000 in January — a job loss not seen since the tail of the last recession in 2003.

The plan before the 100-member Senate will need 60 votes to prevail. It would cost $14 billion and extend unemployment payments for 13 weeks nationwide to people whose 26 weeks of regular benefits have run out.

“Every economist will tell you that stimulus spending will get into the economy much quicker than a tax rebate,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

“It is hard to think of a group of Americans who are more likely to spend the marginal dollar than families that have been forced by job loss to scale back their normal standards of living,” said Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University economics and public affairs professor.

Many conservatives and Republicans view jobless benefits as a drain on the economy rather than a potential boost to it. Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said extending jobless benefits may keep people from working.

“Most people find a job in the last two weeks of their unemployment,” Mr. Gregg said. “That’s human nature. They stay on unemployment almost until the end and then they find a job. If you extend it another year, those folks who could be productive, producing a job, creating economic activity by having a job will stay on unemployment even though there may be a job out there that they could take.”

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