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Opinion

EDITORIAL: Extending benefits helps the unemployed - and the economy

This lame duck Congress shouldn't waddle off into history without extending benefits for the millions of people who otherwise will see their last unemployment checks this holiday season.

It would be churlish to snatch that lifeline away from 2 million people nationally on Nov. 30. With one in 10 workers still out of a job, now is not the time to deprive the fragile economy of the stimulus provided by putting money into the hands of people who will immediately spend it. The economic impact on Long Island would be equivalent to the sudden loss of 28,000 low-wage jobs.

Washington has provided emergency benefits during times of high unemployment for 50 years. But last week, for want of offsetting spending cuts, the House of Representatives rejected a bill to extend compensation through Feb. 28. Unless Congress reconsiders, New York's newly jobless will be eligible for a maximum of only 26 weeks of benefits rather than the current 99 weeks.

Almost two years is a long time to rely on unemployment checks. But many of the jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession will never return. Given the structural changes in the labor market, structural changes in emergency federal unemployment compensation may be warranted, such as requiring those getting checks to get retraining for jobs in demand.

But as Congress debates continuing lucrative tax cuts for the nation's highest earners, extending meager benefits for the jobless should be an easy call, especially in this season of compassion. hN

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