Officials back jobless benefit extension

A half-dozen Senate Republicans, including Ohio’s Rob Portman, helped legislation extending long-term jobless benefits for more than 1 million Americans clear an early obstacle Tuesday, which was allowing for debate on the proposal later this week.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan joined Ohio AFL-CIO president Tim Burga on a conference call just before the Senate’s unexpected approval, to, in part, try and prod leadership in the Republican-led House to consider similar legislation.

Congressional inaction, said Ryan, a Democrat from Howland, is ”nothing more than turning our backs” on 130,000 families in Ohio and multitude of others in the United States dependent on the benefits.

Portman said after the Senate’s 60-37 vote to limit debate on the legislation that he voted to proceed ”with the hope” that during the debate, the Senate will agree to pay for the extension and try to improve the unemployment insurance program so it can do a better job connecting the unemployed with jobs.

”Not paying for the extension adds to the nation’s historic debt, causing more uncertainty for the economy and making it harder to create jobs,” Portman said. ”We must also include reforms that help equip the unemployed with the skills they need to access jobs currently available …”

Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s Democratic senator, also voted in favor of continuing debate.

As drafted, the bill would restore between 14 weeks and 47 weeks of benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were affected when the program expired Dec. 28. Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.

Ryan said he is ”not very optimistic” that House Republican leadership will bring the legislation for a vote, which left him to publicly urge GOP leaders there to consider the measure.

Burga said the AFL-CIO is ”activating working families” across the state to contact lawmakers to be supportive of extending benefits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.