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Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich And Rick Santorum Decry Extended Unemployment Benefits

Posted: 01/16/2012 10:05 pm

Republican presidential candidates sharply criticized extended unemployment insurance during Monday evening's debate in South Carolina, where the unemployment rate is 9.9 percent.

"I think we have to look at having a reasonable time for people to be able to come back, get a job and then turn their lives around," former Sen. Rick Santorum said in response to a question from Brett Baier of Fox News. "But what we've seen in the past under this administration is extending benefits up to 99 weeks. I don't support that. I think if you have people who are out of work that long a period of time, it's without question, it makes it harder to find work when you come back."

Congress has given the long-term jobless additional weeks of unemployment benefits in every recession since the 1950s. In 2009 lawmakers increased the duration of federal benefits to 73 weeks in hard-hit states. The compensation kicks in for workers who use up 26 weeks of state-funded benefits. Research has shown that the longer people are out of work, the more trouble they have finding new jobs. But the latest research has not shown that the current regimen of extended benefits is significantly increasing long-term unemployment.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested the unemployed should have to do job training in order to qualify for benefits.

"All unemployment compensation should be tied to a job training requirement," Gingrich said. "If somebody can't find a job and they show up and they say, you know, 'I need help,' the help we ought to give them is to get them connected to a business-run training program to acquire the skills to be employable. Now the fact is, 99 weeks is an associate degree."

According to the Congressional Research Service, people with advanced degrees are no less likely than high school dropouts to join the ranks of the 99ers. There are roughly 1.9 million people who've been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, up from 1.4 million in December 2010.

Santorum said he supported allowing states more freedom to craft unemployment policies.

"What I believe, just like I did with welfare reform -- when we reformed welfare, we sent it back to the states and we gave the states the flexibility to design these programs," Santorum said. "Just as I would do here with unemployment insurance. It should go back to the states, let the states design it. If South Carolina, because of a unique situation, wants to have a longer unemployment period of time because of a unique situation here, fine. But to have a federal program that roughly and crudely tries to assess the problem of unemployment from state to state and area to area is the wrong approach."

States have more control of unemployment insurance than Santorum suggested. They already do administer their own unemployment programs within federal guidelines. South Carolina was one of several states last year to cut the duration of state-funded benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, and South Carolina lawmakers are mulling proposals to require drug testing and volunteer work for claimants. The full complement of federal benefits is only available in states with high unemployment rates.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) sounded a more compassionate note during the debate, saying he opposed extended unemployment insurance but that benefits shouldn't be cut abruptly.

"A little while ago we were talking about funding the unemployed and of course that should be privatized and I don't support it, but I don't support cutting it off like that," Paul said. "I would cut some of the military spending like Eisenhower advises, watch out for the military complex."

In December, Congress reauthorized extended unemployment insurance programs through February, but it did so in a way that will allow the final 20 weeks of benefits to phase out in one state after another over the course of this year even if the programs are preserved beyond February.

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