DGA presses Congress on unemployment benefits

Sixteen Democratic governors led by Maryland's Martin O'Malley have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to quickly broker a compromise to extend long-term unemployment benefits before the money runs out at the end of the year.

“We are extremely concerned about the potential impact of the expiration of these programs on families and our economic recovery as a whole,” reads the letter from the Democratic Governors Association, which O'Malley chairs. “Now is not the time to turn our backs on hard-working Americans.”

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are locked in their latest down-to-the-wire effort to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed in the face of a national 8.6 percent jobless rate. Marylanders collecting unemployment exhaust state benefits after 26 weeks and then shift to two federally funded programs, one that lasts for 47 weeks and another that extends payments for an additional 13 weeks.

Both programs must be refunded or will lapse.

The National Employment Law Project, a leading advocate in favor of extending the benefits, estimates that 14,300 out-of-work state residents would lose benefits if the programs are not extended.

Both parties support extending the benefits; however, there is disagreement over how to pay for the extension. The debate over unemployment insurance has also been caught up in a flurry of year-end legislation needed to fund the government and extend a payroll tax holiday.

The Republican-controlled House passed a bill Tuesday to address those issues but President Barack Obama and Democrats in the Senate say that legislation includes provisions they cannot support.

In addition to O’Malley, the letter was signed by Andrew Cuomo of New York, Pat Quinn of Illinois, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and 12 other governors. It was addressed to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

“Extending unemployment insurance is a critical part of our ability to speed up the economic recovery process,” the letter reads. “Unemployment insurance benefits are immediately injected back into the economy.” 

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