NASHVILLE - Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Tuesday urged Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and GOP lawmakers to "act responsibly" and support legislation aimed at reinstating federal jobless benefits for thousands of Tennesseans.
"Partisan politics shouldn't threaten the economic future of 28,000 Tennesseans who can't find work due to a recession that was no fault of their own," Forrester said in a statement.
Forrester charged that Haslam and legislative Republicans "haven't lived up to their promise to create jobs, and now their negligence is jeopardizing critical financial support that is keeping children fed, bills paid and families out of foreclosure."
Legislative Democrats are pushing last-minute legislation that seeks to restore 20 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed Tennesseans.
They lost those benefits April 16 after the state failed to act and make state law comply with a new federal requirement after the federal extended benefit program was renewed.
State officials have tried to shift blame to the federal Department of Labor, saying they were advised the state was fine and needed to take no action.
Restoring benefits would bring an additional $57.7 million in federal funds for workers formerly employed in the private sector.
But Republicans, including Haslam, have questioned the financial impact on state and local governments as well as some public hospitals and other nonprofits, which must pay up to $275 a week for the long-term unemployed.
Backdating the benefits to April and extending them to the end of December, when the additional federal funding runs out, would cost state and local governments about $2.8 million, according to the latest state Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates.
Haslam has two questions
Earlier in the day, Haslam told The Associated Press that he has "two big questions" about the legislation.
"One is: Exactly how much would it cost us? And No. 2 is: Who would be covered?" Haslam asked. "The legislation as it's covered now, there's some disagreement about when people were triggered out of the program, who would be covered by that?"
He said he has asked "for that to be cleared up today so we all know exactly what it's costing us and who would be covered, because there's a little bit of a disagreement about that."
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a libertarian-style advocacy group, urged Haslam not to act.
"While it is touted as a measure to 'protect' the unemployed, this proposal is bad for everyone," said TCPR President Justin Owen in a news release. "It strips taxpayers of an additional $60 million that our state and federal government don't have to spend."
"It also harms the very unemployed who are stuck in a rut. We need to be throwing them a rope, not dumping buckets of water on them," he said.
But Mary Mancini with Tennessee Citizen Action, a left-of-center advocacy group, said the "hard-working people of Tennessee are our most valuable resource."
"We really should go ahead and invest in them during this difficult time," she said. "There is a way to fix this. It doesn't matter who made the mistake and why. We should fix it as soon as possible."