WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on Capitol Hill have launched a drive to renew jobless benefits averaging less than $300 a week nationwide for people out of work for more than six months.
Benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed people expire just three days after Christmas. Lawmakers say another 1.9 million people would miss out on the benefits in the first six months of next year.
"This is a human crisis for hundreds of thousands of people," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.
At issue are federally paid benefits available to out of work people after 26 weeks of state benefits run out. They've typically been offered during period of high unemployment and have been in place since 2008, though fewer weeks of extended jobless benefits are available than in previous years.
It's not clear whether the latest effort to extend the benefits will succeed as previous efforts have. Republicans are likely to insist that the $25 billion cost of extending the benefits be couple with cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Levin and other Democrats announced the latest drive at a news conference at the Capitol. They were bookended by charts highlighting the weakness of the ongoing economic recovery, in which many unemployed people are spending longer stretches without work or are leaving the workforce.
"They're not looking for a handout. They believe in the dignity of work," Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. Said of the unemployed. "They're looking for a lifeline."
Levin and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., introduced the legislation on Wednesday but supporters are looking to budget negotiations between Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as the best opportunity to advance the benefits.
Economists say continuing the benefits would also help prop up the economy because unemployed people generally spend their weekly benefits on the necessities of life and that cutting them off would mean less consumer consumption in the economy.
The Congressional Budget Office, for instance, concluded in a report last year that a dollar's worth of unemployment benefits has "one of the largest effects on employment per dollar of budgetary cost."