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Senator Portman discusses poverty, unemployment

Sen. Rob Portman discussed a litany of issues with Ohio media members during a conference call on Thursday.

The top topic however, was a proposed extension of the current federal unemployment benefits system. Portman was one of six Republicans who voted in favor of the extension earlier this week.

“I voted in favor of a three-month extension,” Portman said. “I’m not opposed to that as long as during that three-month period we are working to reform our unemployment system, and the promise from both parties is that we will.”

Portman says that reform of the current system is necessary to stop double dipping and he believes they can rectify that issue during the three-month extension period.

“The way the current system is set up people can draw unemployment from Social Security disability insurance payments and trade adjustment assistance,” the senator said. “That’s not right and we could save about 5.4 billion dollars by putting a stop to this double dipping.

“I wouldn’t and won’t support a longer extension because we can get this fixed in three months, probably even less. So I’m not interested in a long-term extension, we have three months to discuss reform. That discussion shouldn’t need to be any longer.”

Going hand-in-hand with the unemployment discussion was a discussion on the rise in poverty rates across the nation. Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, the country is still fighting against economic hardship, Portman said.

“I think Lyndon Johnson would be disappointed,” Portman said. “Here we are, 50 years later and still fighting that war. In the last four years poverty levels have only risen.

“But, the major factor is that many of the policies that were put in place to fight poverty haven’t been modernized. They were good policies, but they need to be reformed. They need to be updated to better deal with today’s problems.”

The proposed extension, if passed, would extend the unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans. Those benefits ran out on Dec. 28, but a growing number of Republicans are starting to consider the extension as a viable short-term option.

“I spoke on this issue three times yesterday,” Portman said. “I wanted to let it be known that there are Republicans who back the extension as a commonsense plan to pay for it is devised and we have an open reform discussion.”

The extension bill was successfully passed in the Senate on Tuesday, but isn’t likely to make it through the House of Representatives. House GOP members have been outspoken against the bill unless a plan was devised to pay for the 6.4 billion dollar price tag the extension comes with.

Portman says that an amendment to the bill that he’s backing may provide a commonsense plan for payment.

“My amendment would allow us to extend unemployment insurance while also paying for it,” Portman said. “This simple measure will ensure that each program’s benefits are going to those are the intended recipients. By eliminating this loophole, we can take a page from the President’s own budget proposal to save money.”