WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Extending unemployment benefits for millions of unemployed Americans is a top priority for the Obama administration and is also a smart thing to do to speed up U. S. economic recovery pace, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said on Friday.
Unemployment benefits represented a critical lifeline for those unemployed Americans, and extending them is not only the "right thing" but also the "smart thing" to do "because these extended benefit programs provide critical relief to families and they also stimulate the economy during the times when such stimulus is so needed," Perez told reporters in a conference call.
Approximately 1.3 million workers currently receiving extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits lost them as the program expired on Dec. 28. About 3.6 million additional people will lose access to UI benefits beyond 26 weeks by the end of 2014 if Congress fails to act, the White House figures showed.
U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold an event at the White House Tuesday and call on Congress to renew long-term unemployment benefits for millions of Americans when he returns to Washington from his vacation in Hawaii, Perez said.
"During times of extraordinary economic distress, Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have recognized the need to extend unemployment benefits to help people weather a storm that was not of their making," he said.
Extending the unemployment benefits is a "fair thing" to do as the number of long-term unemployed people still remained elevated and there are not enough job opportunities, he stressed.
Unemployed Americans can get 26 weeks of state-paid unemployment benefits, and the length of the benefits has been extended in 2008 after the onset of the financial crisis with the financial help of the federal government. The federal government- funded extra assistance UI program has been repeatedly extended in past years, but some Republicans opposed renewing the temporary program.