Democrats renew fight to extend unemployment benefits
May 7, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Democratic senators renewed their fight Wednesday to extend unemployment benefits for another six months for millions of Americans left jobless by the economic slowdown.
U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other Democrats complained the Bush administration is too focused on tax cuts for the wealthy, and not on helping those who have been out of work for months.
"Our first priority on the economy is to get America back to work, not just reward the wealthy," said Kennedy, who introduced the extension in legislation earlier this year. "A major part of that effort must be help for the unemployed."
Congress approved a six-month extension last November, but that will expire at the end of this month. Beginning May 31, about 80,000 workers per week will lose their unemployment benefits, according to Kennedy.
Walda Lyons of Queens, N.Y., is among them. "I've been out of work since March 19, 2002," said Lyons, who worked at a payroll company that went out of business after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's very stressful," she said. "Survival becomes a very large part of your life. If there was a job - I'd take any job."
According to the Labor Department, the nation's unemployment rate swelled to 6 percent in April, with 8.8 million people out of work. About 2 million have been without jobs for 27 weeks or more.
While the Bush administration has argued for tax cuts to spur the lagging economy, Democrats have insisted that extending the unemployment benefits is better way to stimulate growth.
"Our jobless workers are growing discouraged and facing hardships no American should ever be forced to endure," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., who also attended the press conference. "This ... will get jobless workers back on their feet."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he will offer Kennedy's bill as an amendment to the Republican tax bill during debate in the Finance Committee Thursday. If it fails, Democrats plan to offer it as part of their economic plan when debate moves to the Senate floor next week.
Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, "is open to looking at some type of unemployment insurance extension before the end of May," said committee spokeswoman Jill Gerber. But she said it is unlikely Bingaman's amendment would succeed in the committee.
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