Dems pledge new push for unemployment benefits

Several Democrats said over the weekend that they would keep up their push to extend emergency unemployment benefits in January, including Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who said he would propose legislation to that effect next week.

Cicilline and others blamed Republicans for adjourning for the year without extending the emergency benefits, which were first put in place in 2008 but expired on Saturday.

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"The day the Republican-led Congress skipped town for the holidays it left behind 1.3 million Americans who rely upon this assistance to survive as they continue to look for work," Cicilline said Saturday in Rhode Island. "Nearly 5,000 Rhode Islanders who have already exhausted their state benefits are now without their last safety net.

"I'm not giving up this fight until we renew emergency unemployment benefits for people struggling to find work."

Cicilline explained that for the last five years, people who had used up their state benefits were able to receive up to 47 weeks of federal unemployment benefits. An estimated 1.3 million people are expected to be hit immediately by the termination of these benefits, but Cicilline said that number will rise to nearly 5 million over the course of 2014 without action from Congress.

Cicilline added that he has written to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to urge him to extend the benefits, and said he would propose a bill as soon as Congress resumes its work on January 7.

So far, however, House Republicans have indicated they would allow the benefits to expire. In early December, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the program was "emergency spending… emergency need," and said the best way to help people is to "get them back to work."

The Senate also adjourned without passing any legislation to extend the benefits, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would look to pass something in early 2014. Last week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said House Democrats would push for the same outcome in the lower chamber.

In the meantime, several Democrats said over the weekend that the expiration of benefits would cut off help to thousands of people in their district.

"The current long-term unemployment rate, 2.6 percent in October, is double what it was the last time an extension of unemployment insurance was allowed to expire, but Republicans refused to pass an extension for 2014," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). He added that nearly 10,000 Minnesotans will have federal benefits cut off in early January.

"Unemployment compensation is neither reckless nor wasteful spending – it is a lifeline for millions of families struggling to recover from the worst economic recession of our time," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). "Congress's first order of business in the new year must be to address this failure, and to ensure that Americans facing difficult times are provided with the support they need as they continue to look for work."