U.S. Sen. Jack Reed proposes temporary extension of unemployment benefits

  ·  Philip Marcelo, Providence Journal   ·   Link to Article

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is making another bid to extend unemployment benefits to more than 1.3 million Americans -- nearly 5,000 of which are jobless Rhode Islanders -- that risk losing them on Dec. 28.

Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat up for reelection next year, says he's introduced legislation along with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, to allow those impacted to continue receiving benefits for more three months while Congress works out a permanent plan.

In November, Reed and other Senate Democrats, including Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, proposed extending the benefits through 2014.

The proposal comes as the Democrat-controlled Senate is poised to recess for the year as soon as Friday. The Republican-run House is not expected to reconvene until after the New Year.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Reed said he's still pushing for at least a Senate vote on the proposal, but acknowledged Republicans in the chamber are resisting, despite the bill being, on its face, a bi-partisan bill.

Reed says extending the unemployment program would provide an economic boost to the nation as it continues to recover from a stubborn recession. (The national unemployment rate is 7 percent, while Rhode Island's is 9.2 percent.)

Without the extension, Reed added, more job seekers will lose their benefits in the New Year, putting further strain on the economy, businesses, and states.

Besides the 1.3 million Americans that would lose the benefits on Dec. 28, another 1.9 million could be dropped from the program over the first six months of 2014, his office has said.

"These are people trying to do the best by their families," Reed said. "The only reason why they qualify for these benefits is that they have a work history. So you're talking about people who've worked, who lost their jobs -- through no fault of their own -- and who are now actively looking for work."

The Obama Administration said Wednesday it supports the Reed-Heller proposal. House Republicans, however, are opposed to extending the benefits unless Democrats agree to spending cuts to offset their costs.

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