WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- With the U.S. Senate poised to vote Monday on a three-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits, the Obama administration is pushing for passage.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez Friday said the bi-partisan bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., would help 1.3 million people who lost unemployment compensation Dec. 28 "who depend on this lifeline."
"As you know, roughly a week ago 1.3 million people who've been struggling in this economy were cut off a critical lifeline because Congress failed to act before that date to extend emergency unemployment benefits," Perez said during a White House conference call.
"During times of extraordinary economic distress Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- have recognized the need to extend unemployment benefits. ... This was not only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do because these extended benefit programs provide critical relief to families and they also stimulate the economy during times when such stimulus is so needed."
Perez said jobless benefits are a critical part of the safety net, along with food stamps and the minimum wage.
"Too many people are working hard and falling behind," he said answering questions about poverty and the working poor.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are currently 2.9 people looking for every job available in the country.
Perez said the best way to decrease long-term unemployment is to grow the economy.
"If we fail to extend these benefits it will cost us 240,000 jobs in the next year," said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. With unemployment at 7 percent, Stevenson said an idled worker typically collects unemployment for 36 weeks -- compared to 17.5 weeks in more normal times when the unemployment rate is less than 5 percent.
Perez said President Obama will meet in the White House East Room Tuesday with people who have lost their long-term unemployment benefits.
"Congress should have done this [extended emergency compensation] in December -- they shouldn't have gone home," Stevenson said. "People need their unemployment checks to pay their rent and eat this month."