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800,000 jobless workers to lose benefits

Federal program cuts off Saturday

The last Congress failed to pass an unemployment bill that could have extended benefits.
The last Congress failed to pass an unemployment bill that could have extended benefits.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As many as 800,000 jobless Americans will lose their federal unemployment benefits Saturday, when a federal program that extended their benefits expires.

They'll now join the estimated one million people who have already used up the money they were entitled to under the program, which extended state-funded benefits by 13 weeks in most states and by 26 weeks in the three states with the highest unemployment levels: Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

The program cuts off December 28, no matter how many weeks of paychecks unemployed workers have received.

The last Congress failed to pass an unemployment bill that could have extended the program.

"The House Republican leadership turned their backs on these families and refused to act, and the (Bush) administration chose not to intervene," Sen. Democratic leader Tom Daschle charged Friday. "This inaction by Republicans was unconscionable then, and it is even more so now."

The White House and Republican leaders had no immediate response to the statement.

The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would have extended benefits nationwide. The House passed a much less expensive package that would have extended benefits in a handful of states. Neither made it through Congress, and the president did not get involved.

Bush calls on Congress

President Bush has since called on the next Congress to make extending unemployment benefits one of its first tasks in January. He said those who are cut off on December 28 should have their benefits extended retroactively to that date.

But critics complain such a bill still would not cover people who have used up their federal benefits, nor those whose state benefits run out in 2003.

In coming weeks, 95,000 workers will lose their benefits each week, according to the AFL-CIO, which called on Congress to extend the program.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney called the cut-off of the benefits extension "an economic catastrophe."

"The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives and President Bush should feel ashamed," he said.

In a conference call Friday, the AFL-CIO introduced steelworkers who are struggling with unemployment.

"It's tough," said David Schiffman of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania.

"There's not much out there," echoed 52-year-old Joyce Smith of Ardmore, Tennessee.

In comments on the AFL-CIO Web site, 48 year-old Gary Hinerman of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, said:

"If I could speak to members of Congress, I'd tell them to come see how we live, see how we feel. They want the economy to pick up, but there are no jobs around to pick it up with."

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