- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The House passed legislation Tuesday night that extends unemployment-insurance benefits for 13 weeks in states with high jobless rates.

The benefits will help more than 300,000 unemployed U.S. workers living where the unemployment rate is at least 8.5 percent — in 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“By passing this legislation, we have told the American people that we stand with them and will not abandon them at a time when decent hard-working Americans are struggling to regain their economic footing, said Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat and chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the country’s unemployment-insurance system.

The bill passed 331-38 and similar legislation is now pending in the Senate.

The recession started in December 2007, which mean the maximum 79 weeks of benefits would end Sept. 30. for 314,000 unemployed U.S. workers. The 79 weeks are a combination of 26 weeks offered by most states and 53 weeks offered by the federal government, including the additional 20 weeks Congress approved in February.

Benefits will end for an estimated one million people by the end of the year.

The national unemployment rate in 9.7 percent, a 26-year high, and is expected to hit 10 percent by next year.

The House legislation passed along party lines with Democrats saying that extending benefits will help President Obama’s multi-billion dollar economic-stimulus package. Republicans said the $1.4 billion legislation was needed because Mr. Obama’s initiative has failed to create new jobs.

“Extending unemployment-insurance benefits will support the recovery at a critical turning point, Mr. McDermott said.

He also said the legislation is being funded by extending a small tax on employers so it does not increase the federal deficit.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged unemployment remains a problem.

“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,” he 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 country has lost 6.9 million jobs since the recession started, and about 5 million U.S. workers are now unemployed. An estimated six unemployed workers are competing for each job opening.

The 27 states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

“Unemployment insurance is an important safety net for American workers, but it has now been extended so long, to more than 18 months in many states, that it will have a counterproductive effect on our labor markets,” said Tom Price, Georgia Republican who voted against the bill. “Our focus should be on creating an environment for job growth and putting people back to work, rather than investing in an increasingly permanent federal disincentive.”

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