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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 5:16 PM

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Editorial: State’s congressional delegation should stop dragging feet on unemployment benefits

Washington’s four Republican congressional delegates should do something right now to spur their local economies and help job-seekers stay afloat as they search for work.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WASHINGTON state’s four Republican members of Congress should join their Democratic colleagues in pressing for an extension of the federal unemployment insurance for struggling job seekers.

Congress unwisely let this financial lifeline expire last December, even though jobless rates have not rebounded to pre-recession levels. The money helps the long-term unemployed — defined as active job-seekers who have exhausted their regular 26 weeks of state benefits — keep up with basic living costs for up to 28 additional weeks.

Between December and March, the state estimates nearly 43,000 people in Washington have been cut off from assistance.

Washington’s two senators support it. And its six Democratic U.S. House members signed a discharge petition trying to force a vote on this matter. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, responded to an inquiry that she did not. Repeated calls and emails this week to Republican Reps. Dave Reichert of Auburn, Doc Hastings of Pasco and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas went unreturned.

That’s too bad. These Republicans should be pressing their leadership to move a bill that would directly benefit many of their struggling constituents.

A bipartisan effort to restore and extend federal benefits through May is moving through the U.S. Senate and is expected to pass. But without House action, the measure dies.

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner cast doubt on the measure this week, calling it “unworkable” because some state administrators may not be able to implement the changes required to distribute the funds.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Employment Security Department says the agency could probably dispense the checks within a week or so. If lawmakers make too many changes to duration and eligibility, the process could take longer.

Mostly, unemployment benefits go directly into the economy for groceries, rent and other living expenses. U.S. House Democrats recently reported that unemployment-insurance cuts cost the economy about $3 billion in January and February.

McMorris Rodgers in particular must exert her influence as the fourth-highest-ranking leader in her caucus. She should stop repeating tired party lines that unjustifiably paint federal unemployment insurance as a handout.

“We need to focus on long-term job growth, not an ineffective, short-term fix,” she says.

Wrong. We should focus on both. The hard times are not over; the jobs are not there yet. An extension of the benefits is in order.

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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