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Plan to extend NH jobless benefits advances

Washington - Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has reached agreement with Senate leaders to more fairly distribute extended unemployment benefits to residents of states with relatively low jobless rates, including New Hampshire, her spokesman said today.

After objecting to a Senate leadership measure that would have given only four weeks of additional benefits to states with unemployment rates below 8.5 percent, the New Hampshire Democrat was part of a group of senators who agreed late Wednesday to a compromise measure, said Shaheen spokesman Colleen Murray.

The compromise would provide an 14 additional weeks of benefits to states with unemployment rates below 8.5 percent and 20 weeks to states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or above.

The House had passed a bill last month providing no additional benefits to states with lower unemployment rates and 13 additional weeks to states with higher rates.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced a bill to extend unemployment benefits by only four weeks in states with unemployment rates below 8.5 percent and by 17 weeks in states with rates at, or above, that level.

Shaheen objected and then proposed extending benefits by 13 weeks to the 23 states with rates below 8.5 percent and by 17 weeks in states with rates of 8.5 percent or higher.

Her objection led to discussions that included Shaheen, Reid, Baucus and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and to the compromise announced today.

Shaheen and the other senators would pay the $2.4 billion tab for the plan by extending the federal unemployment surtax through June 30, 2011, said Murray. She said the surtax is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

Murray said Reid introduced the compromise amendment on the Senate floor last evening.Shaheen said on the floor that out-of-work Granite Staters "face one of the weakest job markets since the Great Depression. Until the job market improves, we have a responsibility to help these workers keep food on the table and pay the mortgage."

She said extended unemployment is "a proven boost to our economy.

Unemployment compensation is money that gets spent immediately on necessities."Murray said Shaheen is scheduled to appear at the New Hampshire Works unemployment office on Hanover Street in Manchester tomorrow afternoon to talk about the plan.

Shaheen had said that it's unfair to extend unemployment benefits based on geography.

"If you are unemployed, you are in need of help and it doesn't matter if you are in New Hampshire or Michigan. You are still hurting."

While the compromise still has a discrepancy based on where unemployed workers live, Shaheen is "very happy" with the agreement, said Murray.

"This is good news for jobless workers in New Hampshire and all across the country who want to get back to work but face a job market where there are six unemployed workers for every job opening," Shaheen said in a statement.

Darrell Gates, New Hampshire's deputy unemployment commissioner, said that if Shaheen's amendment fails, about 3,600 Granite Staters will exhaust their benefits by the end of December.