The White House went on the offensive Friday seeking to renew an emergency aid program for out-of-work Americans that expired at the end of 2013.
About 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their unemployment insurance on Dec. 28 when Congress failed to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program as part of its budget deal.
President Barack Obama wants Congress to renew the program. On Tuesday, he will meet with families who lost their benefits.
Enacted in 2008, the program provided up to 47 weeks, an average of $300 a week, in benefits to unemployed Americans once they exhausted their state benefits.
Senate Democrats pledged to try and renew the aid program as soon as they get back to work next week. They will take up a bill introduced by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., that will extend the program for three months.
But some Republicans have balked at the roughly $25 billion a year price tag, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. They say the program was always supposed to be temporary.
House Speaker John Boehner has indicated willingness to continue the program provided the White House came up with a plan to pay for it.
The White House warns failing to extend the program would be more expensive. As many as 240,000 in jobs could be lost in 2014 if not renewed, according to a report drafted by President Barack Obama’s Council on Economic Advisers and the Labor Department.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told reporters Friday that these families, in just a month’s time, have gone from a position of hardship to catastrophe “because they no longer have the critical lifeline” the emergency aid program provided to them.
“They’ve been looking day in and day out for work," Perez said. "They’ve been searching for jobs. They are trying to feed their family. They are trying to stave off foreclosure. They are making judgments between food and medicine, judgments that no person in America or anywhere should have to make.”