By Justin Sink - 01/02/14 11:35 AM EST
Failing to extend emergency unemployment benefits for more than 1 million Americans when Congress returns would undoubtedly hurt the nation’s economy, White House adviser Gene Sperling argued Thursday.
Lawmakers did not vote on an extension of the program, launched during the financial crisis, before leaving for winter recess. The White House did not insist on funding for the program in the bipartisan budget deal passed last month.
But White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration "absolutely expects" Congress to address the issue upon returning from the holiday, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the administration “strongly” supported legislation offered by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would prolong the program for three months while Congress weighed a longer extension.
Sperling argued that “long-term unemployment is a more serious problem now than it's been in decades and decades.”
“We as a country have never cut off emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment was this high. So to simply allow 1.3 million workers and their families to lose their benefits between Christmas and New Year's, really, does not reflect either economic common sense or our values.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he would entertain the idea of extending the benefits “as long as it’s paid for, and as long as there are other efforts to help get our economy moving once again.”
But the White House has argued that historic unemployment levels mean the program should be funded even if it adds to the deficit.
“What we're simply saying is this is not the time or the moment for the economy, for jobs, but certainly not for these families who are only eligible for these benefits if they are actively looking for work,” Sperling said.