In this file photo John Cripps, left, helps newly-unemployed bartender Olivia Jones with her initial unemployment compensation application at Southwest Florida Works in Fort Myers on October 9. / SARAH COWARD/THE NEWS-PRESS
WASHINGTON (News-Press.com) - The White House is warning that more than 260,000 Floridians will lose long-term unemployment benefits in 2014 unless Congress extends them before year's end.
Some Republican leaders oppose another extension, saying the benefits program was meant as a temporary fix, has done little to boost the economy, and has added billions to the deficit.
In Florida, the program provides an average of $232 in weekly benefits per capita, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That's the fourth-lowest amount in the country and well below the national weekly average of $310.
But federal unemployment benefits are especially important in Florida, which provides only 19 weeks of help. Only Georgia is less generous in providing jobless benefits.
Florida's unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in October, according to the data released Thursday. The rate for the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area was 6.5 percent, while the rate for the Naples-Marco Island metro area was 6.4 percent.
Nationally, jobless Americans have been out of work an average 36 weeks.
Letting unemployment benefits lapse won't just be bad for recipients and their families, it would hurt local economies, said Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.
That's because beneficiaries would stop spending money, costing jobs, she said. The Labor Department estimates that 240,000 jobs across the country would be saved if the benefits continue, including 10,109 in Florida.
"This is obviously devastating for these individual families trying to put food on the table," Stevenson told reporters. "(But) it's actually a crucial program for our economy because when these families are cash-strapped (and) don't have access to credit, their reduction in spending hurts all of us."
Republican leaders counter that the program, first adopted by Congress in 2008 and signed by President George W. Bush, is similar to temporary benefits provided during other recessions with two key differences: This program is much more expensive and has lasted much longer.
"All this record-setting benefit spending has bought us the slowest recovery on record," according to a statement posted by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee web site. "This program - which has already added too much to the deficit and helped keep unemployment too high for too long - should be allowed to finally come to an end."
Stevenson said the effects of the recession, which most economists consider the worst economic setback since the Great Depression, are far from over.
The program has cost taxpayers $252 billion.