Monday, July 12, 2010

Jobless benefits extension is mired in political bickering

As Republicans and Democrats in Congress wrestle with whether to keep spending tax money on extended jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans, Edward Adkins, 59, of Joelton plants vegetables to feed his family.
Adkins lost his job driving a rock-hauling truck more than a year ago and has been cut off from state unemployment checks. "I got my last check last week," he said Friday. "I've done everything I can think of to try to find a new job, but nobody is hiring."

Four of every 10 Tennesseans who were getting some level of unemployment aid in early June have since lost their benefits, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development says. Many of them were getting checks under extended benefits that Congress authorized during the recession, adding up to 73 weeks of jobless pay on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by the states.

But Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a House-passed bill in late June that would have reauthorized the extensions for several more months. That means a total of 57,407 people have dropped off Tennessee's benefits rolls in the past five weeks, highlighting the importance of the debate likely to rekindle in the Senate again this week over possibly restoring the extra aid and how to pay for it.

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GOP holdouts, including Tennessee's two U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, insist they're not against continuing the extended federal aid to the unemployed, but only want to make sure the estimated $33 billion cost comes out of the current budget and doesn't add to the swelling federal deficit.

Alexander and Corker say the proposed benefits' extension, which would run through November, could easily be paid for with unspent money in the economic stimulus plan that Congress approved last year. But House and Senate Democrats so far have rejected that concept.

"This situation is almost beyond belief," Corker said. "We could solve this in five minutes. Let's take unexpended stimulus money to pay for it, and we would be done with it."

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