- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

The U.S. House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on legislation to extend unemployment benefits to thousands of unemployed workers in states hit hardest by the recession.

The bill proposed by Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, would provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits for an estimated 400,000 unemployed U.S. workers in states with a jobless rate of at least 8.5 percent.

Though the recession that started in Dec. 2007 appears to be ending, high unemployment remains a persistent problem that economists and the Obama administration expect to continue into next year.

“Probably the jobs picture is not going to improve considerably, and it could even get a little bit worse, over the next couple of months,” President Obama said Sunday on CNN. “We lost so many jobs that making up for those that have already been lost is going to require really high growth rates.”

His comments follow Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s statement five days earlier that the recession has likely ended but not enough to reduce high unemployment.

The U.S. unemployment rate reached 9.7 percent in August, and the economy has eliminated roughly 7 million jobs since the recession started, the biggest drop since World War II.

The additional benefits would supplement the 26 weeks offered by most states and the 53 weeks offered by the federal government, including the additional 20 weeks Congress approved in February.

The bill requires two-thirds vote for passage. Mr. McDermott is chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the country’s unemployment-insurance system.

Right now, at least 24 states and the District of Columbia have a jobless rate of at least 8.5 percent, including Alabama, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

An estimated 1 million more unemployed workers could receive the benefits when their’s end later this year if the jobless rate hits 8.5 percent in additional states.

Governors from 22 states last week sent a letter to Congress urging federal lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits, including those provided for in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Congress needs to understand that America’s labor force needs its help,” said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Democrat, who signed the Sept. 15 letter.

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