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Originally published Monday, February 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

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Editorial: Congress, it’s time to extend federal unemployment benefits again

When Congress returns from recess in a couple weeks, it must try again to extend federal unemployment benefits for Americans actively seeking jobs.

Seattle Times Editorial

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FEDERAL unemployment benefits are meant to be a temporary solution, but it’s too soon to cut off emergency assistance for about 1.7 million Americans trying to find work.

Congress did these struggling workers and their communities no favors when it allowed federal jobless benefits to expire at year’s end.

In Washington state, at least 28,000 job-seekers so far have lost a critical financial lifeline. Many have put this money immediately into their local economies. It’s how they have afforded basic necessities such as rent, gas, groceries and utilities.

The U.S. Senate attempted to help earlier this month when all 53 Democrats, two independents and four Republicans in the chamber tried to advance a measure on the floor to extend federal unemployment insurance. The bipartisan coalition of senators even found a way to pay for the cost, but they fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed to break the minority party’s filibuster.

This coalition must persuade more Republicans to join them.

Without an extension, thousands more throughout Washington will continue to lose emergency federal assistance each week after their regular state benefits run out at 26 weeks.

Workers looking for jobs beyond that period now make up nearly 30 percent of the state’s unemployed population. There is an average of three applicants for every job opening.

The state Employment Security Department reports more than 153,000 people have turned to and exhausted unemployment benefits since July 2008. More than half of these individuals had stable jobs before the recession. Many had never relied on a handout before.

Congress has stepped up and extended unemployment insurance nearly a dozen times since 2008. The economy still is struggling. Time to do it again.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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