President Obama on Tuesday will meet with Americans who lost unemployment benefits at the start of the year, as the White House ramps up pressure on Republicans to extend the federal aid for three months.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced the White House gathering during a conference call with reporters, the latest attempt by the Obama administration to highlight the 1.3 million Americans no longer receiving federal unemployment insurance.
“This was not only the right thing to do; it was the smart thing to do,” Perez said of the economic repercussions of halting the jobless benefits.
“These programs don’t get in the way of people looking for work. They assist people looking for work," Perez added.
The Obama administration estimates that failing to extend unemployment beyond 26 weeks — the limit during good economic times — would cost the U.S. economy roughly 240,000 jobs.
However, some Republicans argue that such benefits keep Americans perpetually unemployed and limit their motivation to return to the workforce.
A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., would extend the unemployment benefits for three months and is expected to receive a Senate vote next week, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Obama has called on both chambers to pass the legislation as a short-term fix. GOP lawmakers, particularly in the House, are unlikely to support the bill unless the costs are offset somewhere else.
The labor secretary in the conference call Friday was noncommittal on where Obama stood on offsetting the billions of dollars in benefits.
The average monthly stipend for families is $1,166.
The White House is clearly using the issue as part of an increasingly progressive pitch to argue that Republicans are out of touch with Americans struggling to find work during a down economy.
“Too many people,” Perez said, “are working hard and falling further behind.”