Labor secretary calls for extension of jobless benefits

As a cold snap hits most of the country, including central Pennsylvania, 1.3 million people are financially left out in the cold.

Emergency unemployment compensation expired Dec. 28 after Congress failed to extend funding before their holiday break.

In Pennsylvania, the halted jobless checks impact 86,000 unemployed workers. The program began in 2008 during the recession to allow unemployed workers up to 47 weeks of aid after they exhausted their state benefits.

On Friday, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke with abc27 via satellite and called for Congress to extend the funding when lawmakers return Monday.

“We're making progress, but the lifeline continues to be needed for millions of people,” Perez said.

Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) said he is not as eager to rubber stamp more national debt. Perry pointed the finger at President Barack Obama's administration for failing to adopt House plans to generate job growth.

“I'm frustrated because I know the House has passed 100 bills, 150 bills, most of which dealt with doing something to foster a greater vitality in the economy, whether it was allowing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, or the Skills Act, or what have you,” Perry said.

Perry and many House Republicans are not keen on the $25 billion annual cost for the program. Perry said other measures must be taken as Congress may extend the program for at least the 12th time.

“Insanity is the definition of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome,” Perry said. “I'm going to be looking for something a little more and that's what I was elected to do. We want these people taken care of, but the government can be doing more.”

Secretary Perez argues not giving people help during tough times would hurt the economy. However, both Perry and Perez believe there is common ground where Democrats and Republicans can meet to extend the funding while creating other programs to stimulate the job market.

“It starts with making sure we have this lifeline and the work that Congress needs to do next week, but it doesn't stop there,” he said. “Our investments in people's skills, our work in our American job centers, passing immigration reform which will grow the economy, investing in our roads and businesses, building our infrastructure not only addresses a critical need, but it creates and builds good middle class jobs.”

Perry said he would not agree to a deal without alternative funding avenues.

“I would want to see a plan for an offset or something or some way that we're going to pay for that or how we get out of that, and how we get those folks an opportunity to get back to work,” he said.


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