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U.S. bishops urge Congress to extend unemployment benefits

December 12, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey
  • Job seekers speak with employers Monday at the New York Career Fair.
Job seekers speak with employers Monday at the New York Career Fair. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images )

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is weighing in on one of the remaining items on Congress' to-do list. In a letter that quotes Pope John Paul II, the bishops urged Congress to extend unemployment benefits for the jobless.

"The U.S. Catholic bishops have long advocated that the most effective way to build a just economy is the availability of decent work at decent wages," wrote Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "When the economy fails to generate sufficient jobs, there is a moral obligation to help protect the life and dignity of unemployed workers and their families."

Benefits for the long-term unemployed are set to expire at the end of the year. While Congress appears headed to renew the payments, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on changes to the program.

Democrats generally have backed a renewal of the current system, which uses federal funds to provide up to 99 weeks of payments. House Republicans on Tuesday will vote on a bill that seeks to trim that to 50 weeks. The bishops did not weigh in on a specific proposal.

The letter quotes Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter, Laborem Exercens No. 18, written in 1981.

"The obligation to provide unemployment benefits, that is to say, the duty to make suitable grants indispensable for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, is a duty springing from the fundamental principle of . . . the right to life and subsistence," it read.

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