The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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December 28, 2013

Aid ends today for 1,000 in dire need

SUNBURY — More than 1,000 jobless Valley residents will see their nine-week extended federal unemployment benefits end today as the program initiated by former President George W. Bush expires.

While congressional leaders are considering a stop-gap measure to help the long-term unemployed, the Second Session of the 113th Congress does not begin until Jan. 7.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, said Friday that he is undecided on whether he would support such a bill should it be put to a vote.

“I will review any ideas put forward,” he said. “It’s no secret that our economy is down, and has been on a long and uninspiring recovery for too many years. The unemployment rate is still unacceptably high, and would be even higher were it not for the millions of Americans who have given up looking for work and are no longer counted in the statistical measurements.”

The national unemployment rate was 7 percent in November.

Extended benefits will be shut off today for 690 residents of Northumberland County, 150 of Snyder County, 140 of Union County and 60 of Montour County.

Continuing the program is a complex issue, Barletta said.

“If extending the benefits and increasing government spending were to cure the economic woes, we would be below 5 percent unemployment already, as promised by the stimulus package,” he said. “Some fear that extending unemployment benefits almost indefinitely actually creates a disincentive for people to find work.”

But the reality is, Barletta said, that there are thousands of people in Pennsylvania who are hurting because of the sluggish economy.

“It is possible that there will be some legislation addressing it, which could be considered when we reconvene,” he said. If we had a vibrant economy, we wouldn’t have to be talking about this.“

Started under President George W. Bush, the benefits were designed as a cushion for the millions of U.S. citizens who lost their jobs in a recession and failed to find new ones while receiving state jobless benefits, which in most states expire after six months.

Another 1.9 million people nationwide are expected to exhaust their state benefits before June 30.

“When Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right,” President Barack Obama said last week at his year-end news conference.

But Obama has no quick fix. He hailed this month’s two-year budget agreement as a breakthrough of bipartisan cooperation while his administration works with Democratic allies in the House and Senate to revive an extension of jobless benefits for those unemployed more than six months.

The Obama administration says those payments have kept 11.4 million people out of poverty and benefited almost 17 million children. The cost of them since 2008 has totaled $225 billion.

House Democrats led by Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland sought to include an extension through March by offsetting the costs with potential farm bill savings. They were rebuffed.

Senate Democrats and some Republicans plan another push in 2014.

House Speaker John Boehner spoke with Obama about an extension earlier this month. Boehner and said his caucus would consider the possibility “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again.” He said the White House has yet to introduce a plan that meets his standards.

Extending the program would boost GDP growth by some 0.2 percent and increase full-time employment by 200,000 next year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, but at the price of increasing the government’s debt.

n The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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