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Hirono, Djou split on extending jobless benefits

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Hawaii’s two U.S. House members on Thursday split their votes on a bill to restore jobless benefits, an issue that may resonate with unemployed workers who go to the polls in November.

Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono supported the bill, which easily passed the House 272-152, with 31 Republicans in favor of it. Republican Rep. Charles Djou of Hawaii was not one of them; he voted against the bill for the second time this month.

The $34 billion measure would restore unemployment benefits to people who have been out of work for six months or more. It would end a seven-week interruption that caused 2.5 million people nationwide to lose benefits averaging about $300 a week.

President Barack Obama has said he will sign it as soon as it arrives on his desk.

Ryan Markham, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said as many as 10,300 Hawaii residents may be eligible for the extended benefits. The agency should be able to notify them within the next two weeks on how to obtain the money, he added.

Democrats pounced on Djou’s vote.

“Representative Charles Djou just doesn’t get it,” Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

“Even as folks struggle through no fault of their own back in Hawaii, Djou didn’t hesitate to vote against extending the sole economic lifeline that is keeping their families afloat while they look for a new job,” he added.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, Djou’s likely Democratic opponent in November, said in a statement, “By voting nay, not once but twice, Djou is saying no to Hawaii.”

Djou spokesman Daniel Son said the congressman would have no comment. When Djou voted against an earlier version of the legislation on July 1, he said it was because the measure would increase the annual budget deficit.

“Paying for short-term unemployment benefits with long-term debt is not fiscally responsible,” the congressman said then.

When the bill was in the Senate, Hawaii Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye supported it.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate in June was 6.3 percent, a full percentage point less than the same month in 2009, according to state officials.

“This vote helps … people in the islands keep food on their table and a roof over their heads until work is found,” Hirono said in a statement.

The first 26 weeks of jobless benefits are paid by states. The legislation passed Thursday renews a federally financed program providing up to 73 additional weeks of benefits in states with high unemployment rates.

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