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Michigan Congressman calls for extending federal unemployment benefits

Detroit-area Congressman Sander Levin says the federal government must extend federal unemployment benefits.

Levin,  the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, and other Democrats introduced bills Wednesday that would renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for another year.

That program has subsidized state unemployment rolls since 2009, but is set to expire December 28th unless Congress takes action.

Levin says if that doesn’t happen, 1.3 million Americans would lose benefits on December 28th—including 44,000 in Michigan.

Levin says letting that happen would be cruel—and an immediate blow to the economy.

“We’re talking about 1.3 million people, for whom there would be an immediate cutoff,” he says. “The unemployment insurance would vanish three days after Christmas. And another almost 2 million would have their unemployment insurance terminated within the first six months of next year.”

Levin says those extra benefits are needed because the last recession was an “unusually deep” one.

“So still, after the recovery began and things have gotten better, there are about 1.5 million fewer jobs today than when the recession started,” he says. “And about 35-36% are long-term unemployed.”

Despite likely Republican opposition, Levin thinks the legislation has a reasonable chance of passage. He says that because so many people would be affected immediately, it would be a blow to the economic recovery. The program was extended under similar circumstances last year.

Currently, Michigan provides state unemployment benefits for 20 weeks. The EUC provides an additional 28 weeks right now, for a total of 48 weeks.

Levin estimates that extending the program another year would cost about $25 billion, but thinks that price tag is worth it. He says more members of Congress should take time to actually talk with the unemployed.

“I think there’s a stereotype that people aren’t looking for work when they’re unemployed,” Levin says. “It’s a tough task [to find work] in this economy, and we need to be sure that people just aren’t totally left out in the cold.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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