LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The top candidates vying to become Michigan's next U.S. senator agreed Tuesday that jobless benefits should be renewed for 1.3 million long-term unemployed, including 43,000 state residents affected when the program expired late last month.
For weeks, Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters had already been calling for an extension of benefits that expired Dec. 28. Then before White House-backed legislation to restore the benefits unexpectedly cleared a hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, Republican Terri Lynn Land said she supports the bill.
Her stance puts her at odds with Republicans in Congress and conservative organizations that say an extension is ineffective and wasteful.
"I support an extension of the federal benefits to those actively seeking gainful employment, but what we really need are pro-growth policies that create jobs so that the victims of the Obama economy can finally regain their independence and dignity with a good-paying job," Land said in a statement issued by her campaign.
Michigan has the third-highest jobless rate in the country, at 8.8 percent, and favoring a renewal of benefits may help Land broaden her appeal with the middle of the electorate after tacking to the right on the federal health care law. She signed a conservative pledge to oppose any funding to implement the law and later said she would have voted against a bill that ended the partial government shutdown in the fall.
Peters said on his Facebook page Tuesday that "extending unemployment insurance is an investment with a proven economic return, and it is the right thing to do for Michigan families." State Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson said Land's stance on jobless benefits "doesn't pass the smell test" because she opposed the deal to reopen the government, while Land said Democrats were the reason the benefits were not part of a December budget agreement.
Michigan's two Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin — who is retiring at year's end — voted to move forward on the three-month extension legislation. While Republicans plan to seek changes so the bill's $6.4 billion cost would not add to deficits, spokeswoman Heather Swift said Land would have supported an extension regardless of whether the cost is paid.
As drafted, the unemployment bill would restore benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were affected when the program expired. Without action by Congress, thousands more each week — 86,000 altogether in Michigan over the next six months — will feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire.