WASHINGTON -- Saying the recession continues to strangle unemployed Americans, Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and other Senate Democratic leaders have reintroduced a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
The bill is identical to one that was approved by Congress in August and signed by President Bush but never funded because the president refused to declare the budget emergency required to release the $5.3 billion needed to extend benefits by as many as 20 weeks.
Sarbanes yesterday joined Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, in asking the president to declare an emergency and authorize the funding.
"We have been hearing these cries of anguish about the situation people find themselves in, of anger and bewilderment," Sarbanes said.
He said people ask "why the government, the administration, that seems to find emergencies in order to help people overseas, doesn't seem able to find an emergency to help people here at home."
According to the senators, requirements for the current extended benefit program are so stringent that relatively few unemployed workers qualify for assistance.
But Sarbanes contended the current program has more than $8 billion that could fund the extension bill.
"Hardly anyone is receiving extended benefits," Sarbanes said. "Even states with unemployment rates of 8, 8 1/2 , 9 and 9 1/2 percent are not able to receive extended benefits."
Sarbanes said employers have paid into the trust fund specifically for the type of economic emergency caused by the recession. He said the trust fund balance could increase to $10 billion by the end of 1992 and should be used now while it is needed.
"The trust fund is building up additional surpluses right in the middle of a recession," Sarbanes said. "There is absolutely no logic to that. The purpose of this trust fund is to build up a balance in good times to pay extended benefits in the bad times. We have bad times right now."
The bill exactly mirrors the legislation the Senate passed in August and still gives the president the power to effectively block the benefits by not declaring a budget emergency.
Skeptics say the bill will do nothing except speed up the congressional process by forcing the Senate to negotiate quickly on a more sweeping bill passed Tuesday by the House.
"I have no problem with the House bill," Sarbanes said. "We have people in Maryland who are exhausting their benefits, unable to extend their benefits, even though the trust fund to pay the extended benefits has a very large surplus in it.
"These are people who cannot meet their house payments or their car payments and they don't know to support their family," Sarbanes added. "We are talking about people who have been working steady and, through no fault of their own, because of the recession, they need some help to make it through this difficult period."