Senator Casey goes to bat for unemployment benefits extension

By:  Bill O'Boyle

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey wants bipartisan support to extend unemployment benefits – a move he says will help the jobless and stimulate the economy.

Casey, D-Scranton, has urged his Senate colleagues to pass an extension for another year of federal unemployment benefits, which expired Tuesday for millions of long-term unemployed workers. But, as expected Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., objected on behalf of Republicans, which will force a debate on the issue that is expected to last several weeks, according to a report on the website. The website reported the issue most likely would be combined in a bill with unrelated tax issues.

“I urge my Senate colleagues to allow for this extension to pass, preventing families and the economy from suffering,” Casey said Tuesday from Washington, D.C.

Last week, Casey organized an effort joined by 28 senators to call for a vote to preserve unemployment insurance for another year. The letter sent to Senate leadership urges a continuation of the unemployment benefits program through Dec. 31, 2011.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, if Congress fails to take action, 2 million workers will lose their unemployment benefits this month. Each month after that, more than 1 million more would fall off the rolls. By April 2011, 6 million workers would be without benefits, Casey said.

“Preserving unemployment benefits will not only provide vital assistance to laid off workers and their families, it will have a significant benefit to the economy,” he said.

He cited a report from Goldman Sachs that said an expiration of unemployment benefits would cause economic growth to fall by half a percentage point.

“That’s a big number,” Casey said.

He said the Economic Policy Institute has reported that extending benefits would increase the gross domestic product by 0.7 percent and create the full-time equivalent of 723,000 jobs. A U.S. Department of Labor report commissioned by the Bush administration found that unemployment benefits in the latest recession saved 1.6 million jobs per quarter and lowered the unemployment rate by 1.2 percent.

The federally extended benefits would mean that many of the unemployed are eligible for up to 99 weeks of benefits. But beginning today, people who apply for the first time can expect a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits, while many of those receiving them now will lose them before the 99 weeks are up.

The 28 senators sent the letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee.

They wrote: “Currently, the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. At the current rate, without a reauthorization, we would cut the life line that millions of Americans use to stay afloat. Equally importantly, we would endanger our fragile economic recovery by reducing the amount Americans spend on groceries, utilities and other basic needs.”

The letter states that for the past six decades Congress has provided federally funded unemployment insurance benefits during every recession.