Division on extending benefits mirrors party lines

Last updated: January 14. 2014 11:49PM - 2555 Views
JOE SYLVESTER jsylvester@timesleader.com

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Local congressmen likely would vote along party lines if a bill to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed comes to a vote.

Republicans U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta would vote for an extension only if there are cuts elsewhere, while Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Matt Cartwright, both Democrats, favor extending the benefits.

Senate negotiators have been trying to fashion a compromise, but The Associated Press reported on Tuesday the Senate postponed two test votes as both parties sought an agreement to restore benefits to 1.3 million long-term jobless workers who lost them in December.

Of the 73,330 Pennsylvania residents receiving unemployment compensation at the time, 2,580 were from Luzerne County, 1,530 from Lackawanna County and 160 from Wyoming County, according to Casey.

Cartwright, D-Moosic, said he’s heard senators are considering a plan to extend the benefits for 90 days but paying for them by extending the sequestration — automatic federal spending cuts — one more year to 2024.

“Personally, I am undecided if I will vote for that,” Cartwright said. “I have been a very loud critic of sequestration. It hurts all kinds of valuable federal programs.”

He said it is taking money from Meals on Wheels and Head Start, among other programs.

“The Head Start in Wilkes-Barre had to say no to about 30 kids because of sequestration,” he said. “That means those kids are going to be playing catch-up their entire academic careers.”

Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, meanwhile, said in a statement that a proposal to merely extend the jobless benefits would not address the underlying problem.

In his statement via email, Toomey said, “Unemployment insurance is part of the safety net for America’s workers when they hit hard times.It does nothing to boost economic growth or spur job creation.”

He said the proposal also would add $6 billion to the deficit.

Barletta, R-Hazleton, said in an emailed statement he would support an extension if a way were found to pay for it. He’d also like to see a plan to get people back to work.

He said unemployment insurance is meant to help people get over the rough patches, but due to extensions and continued economic difficulties, some people have relied on the benefits for two years or more.

“If given the opportunity, I would support a three-month extension of unemployment benefits, as I believe there is enough waste, fraud, and abuse in the system to easily find a way to pay for it. In addition, I would also like to see a plan put in place to help move people off of the benefits and into work.”

Casey, D-Scranton, could not be reached for comment, but in December, he and four other Congress members from Pennsylvania released a county-by-county report that highlighted the need to extend unemployment insurance benefits that were set to expire at the end of that month.

The report, produced with data from the state Department of Labor and Industry, show that extending unemployment insurance would benefit more than 73,000 Pennsylvanians. Further data showed that an extension would boost the Gross Domestic Product and job creation in coming months.

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