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Shaheen urges GOP to extend jobless benefits

WASHINGTON - Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., yesterday urged Republican senators yesterday to "do the right thing" and support the bill that would extend unemployment benefits in all 50 states.

"The pending bill is a great bill," Shaheen said at a news conference. "It's one that will stimulate the economy. It's one that will help unemployed workers who are struggling to get back on their feet during this recession."

The passage of the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act would help the almost 2 million Americans who are in danger of losing their benefits by the year's end by extending jobless benefits for a minimum of 14 weeks in all states and by 20 weeks in states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher, according to Shaheen.

Shaheen said earlier in the day that the extensions are targeted only at unemployed workers who have already exhausted their benefits and been out of jobs for more than a year.

With an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent in New Hampshire in September, the 14-week extension would help at least 1,500 individuals who will exhaust their benefits by the end of the year, according to Darrell Gates, deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security. An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 people would run out of their unemployment benefits by the end of March.

"It definitely helps," Gates said in a phone interview. "Three more months of benefits can at least get them through the winter."

Shaheen and 12 other Democratic senators at the press conference stressed the importance of the extensions and accused their Republican colleagues of holding up the bill.

"Slow-walking these benefits doesn't just hurt individuals and families," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., "it is bad for businesses and the broader economy. Helping people stay afloat is not a partisan issue. It is an urgent national issue that demands action now. And it is time for obstructionism to stop being the philosophy of too many Republicans."

"Republicans are becoming the party of no," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

"I ask those members who are holding up this urgent legislation for political purposes to do the right thing and pass this extension immediately," Shaheen said.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said in a statement, "In these difficult times it is appropriate to extend unemployment insurance to those who have been unable to find work. This extension needs to be done in a responsible way so the cost of it is not passed on to our children by increasing the federal debt, which is already extraordinarily high."

The proposed bill would cost $2.4 billion and would be fully paid for by extending the federal unemployment tax through June 30, 2011, Shaheen said. According to the Congressional Budget Office, every $1 spent on unemployment benefits has generated $1.61 in economic activity, and, therefore, the Democratic senators said, the extensions would pay for themselves.

Several weeks ago, Shaheen objected to House and Senate proposals that offered four weeks of extended unemployment benefits to workers in 23 states, including New Hampshire, while the other 27 states would receive 17 weeks of extended unemployment benefits.

"Before Shaheen got involved in this," Gates said, "New Hampshire wasn't receiving any (extended benefits)."