Obama Highlights Struggles for Workers Without Jobless Benefits

President Barack Obama said extending emergency unemployment insurance will give a “vital economic lifeline” to millions of people still grappling with the aftermath of the worst recession since the 1930s.

“The financial crisis was so devastating that there’s a whole lot of people who are still struggling,” Obama said today at the White House. He was joined by a group of 20 people who the administration said were affected by the expiration of the extra benefits. “This is not an abstraction.”

Obama spoke less than an hour after the Senate advanced legislation that would restore, for three months, the emergency benefits that expired Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans. Six Republicans voted with the Democratic majority to provide the 60 votes needed to move the bill ahead.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has said he’s willing to consider the measure if Democrats pay for its $6.44 billion cost.

Democrats are focusing on income inequality heading into the November elections that will determine control of Congress for the final two years of Obama’s presidency. While the debate over extended unemployment insurance is a reminder that 10.9 million Americans remain out of work at the start of Obama’s sixth year in office, his party views the issue as a winner at the polls.

Obama said the benefits would go to people who are “working their tails off every single day to find a new job.” The extra unemployment insurance will help keep them from falling off a “cliff,” he said, and at the same time bolster the economy.

26 Weeks

With the expiration of the extended benefits, which began in 2008 and lasted as long as 73 weeks last year, aid for the unemployed now ends after 26 weeks in most states. In July, the average weekly unemployment benefit was $307, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The president made calls during his vacation in Hawaii last month to the sponsors of the Senate unemployment benefits bill - - Senators Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican -- offering his support and praising their effort. Obama also phoned several Republican senators yesterday urging them to support the bill.

The national unemployment rate was 7 percent in November and is higher than that in 22 states. Reed and Heller represent the two states with the highest jobless rate, 9 percent.

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