By Joseph Morton
Sen. Mike Johanns said Thursday that he supports at least a short-term extension of federal unemployment benefits, given the state of the economy. The Nebraska Republican said he hopes circumstances turn around soon and allow the government to stop providing the additional benefits, but that the economy isn't there yet.
"What we hear from our people in Nebraska is, "Look, Mike, I'm doing everything I can. I'm looking but there just aren't any jobs,'" Johanns said during a conference call with reporters.
During times of high unemployment, Congress has repeatedly authorized additional federal benefits that cover people beyond the 26 weeks available in state benefits. Workers in states with the highest unemployment rates can qualify for up to a combined total of 99 weeks of state and federal benefits.
But the last authorization of the extended federal benefits just expired. That means millions of jobless Americans are seeing their checks start to dry up. Johanns said he would support renewing those benefits into next year but also stressed that he wants to see them paired with budget offsets.
"I understand the bind that people are in. They call our office. They talk to me when I'm home. It's just a very tough situation," Johanns said. "But I'm also going to say "How are we going to pay for this? Where is the money coming from?'"
Over the next year, nearly seven million workers across the country -- including 14,313 in Nebraska and 34,119 in Iowa -- stand to lose benefits, according to a report released Thursday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
"Extending this support to those hardest hit by this crisis is not only the right thing to do, it's the right economic policy," Council Chairman Austan Goolsbee said. "Letting millions more Americans fall into hardship will hurt our economy at this critical point in our recovery and immediately undermine consumer spending."