Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Jobless benefits extension expected

By Susan Roth
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — The House voted 409-19 late yesterday to pass a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.

The Senate was expected to pass an identical measure today.

Democrats in both chambers protested that the extension doesn't go far enough and will not cover the jobless whose unemployment insurance expired. They wanted a 26-week extension that would include 13 weeks of coverage for about 1 million jobless people who exhausted their benefits. But most House Democrats wound up voting for the GOP bill when their efforts failed.

In Hawai'i, about 800 people exhaust their unemployment benefits each month, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. A total of 10,857 workers claimed unemployment benefits during the week ended May 10, down from 12,875 claims during the year-ago period.

The Republican proposal includes a 26-week extension for the jobless in Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Alaska — states that have especially high unemployment rates according to a federal formula.

Congress last extended benefits to all states in January and that aid expires at the end of this month. Congress wanted to act before taking a week's recess for Memorial Day.

The new measure would extend aid until Dec. 31. Republican sponsors said it will help about 2.4 million jobless people nationwide and cost $6.5 billion over 10 years.

In 2002, 10 million people received $52 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits. The nation's jobless rate in March was 5.8 percent.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., whose state had an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent in March — second only to Oregon's — was the lead sponsor of the House legislation and helped push the GOP leadership to take up the extension before benefits would run out. But about 20,000 people her state's job market would not be helped by the bill because they have exhausted their federal and state benefits and remain unemployed.

In the Senate, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who helped negotiate the last unemployment extension, argued in favor of the Democrats' more generous version of the bill.

"We have a growing number — literally millions — who have exhausted their benefits," Clinton said. "At some point we have to face the reality that this economy is losing private-sector jobs at the fastest rate in our history. When do we take responsibility for these people, as previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, did in previous recessions?"

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., fired back that the majority of the Senate had rejected a longer unemployment extension three times "and it won't win on the fourth vote."

Nickles said Republicans would not allow the unemployment program to "double or triple." And that's just the kind of increase the Democrats would like, he said.