Dayton urges Congress to extend unemployment benefits

Gov. Mark Dayton and 15 other Democratic governors sent a letter to congressional leaders today urging them to extend unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of this year.

The governors want the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program extended and full federal funding for the Extended Benefits Program. Congress is trying to extend the unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut before it leaves Washington for the holidays.

The letter warns that without an extension of the programs, 2 million jobless Americans will be kicked off unemployment benefits in January. The governors write that “Congress has never failed to act on extending federal unemployment insurance benefits when the unemployment rate has exceeded 7.2 percent, and we must not fail our citizens now.

“Now is not the time to turn our backs on hard-working Americans,” they write. “Individuals who are laid off through no fault of their own rely on these funds to support their families. Extending unemployment insurance is a critical part of our ability to speed up the economic recovery process. Unemployment insurance benefits are immediately injected back into the economy.”

The House of Representatives passed an extension of the unemployment programs earlier this week in a bill that also extended the payroll tax cut, but the Senate is unlikely to pass the bill because of certain policy provisions in it. It’s possible that a final payroll tax cut extension plan will also extend the unemployment benefits.

Dayton wrote a separate letter to Minnesota’s congressional delegation asking them to not only support maintaining the unemployment benefits but also temporarily changing federal law to allow Minnesota to extend an emergency state unemployment benefits program. Currently, the law allows the state to extend unemployment benefits if the jobless rate is more than 6.5 percent. Dayton wants that trigger lowered to 5.5 percent.

(The Star Tribune broke down the different layers of Minnesota unemployment benefit programs today.)

“This temporary change will allow Minnesota to continue to provide much needed assistance to unemployed Minnesotans over the next couple of months,” Dayton wrote in his letter.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

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