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CONGRESS should extend federal unemployment insurance. Don’t think of these emergency benefits as another handout for lazy people. They are a lifeline for 1.3 million Americans actively seeking work.

When lawmakers let the program expire on Dec. 28, about 25,000 of Washington’s long-term jobless residents stopped receiving assistance. Emergency federal aid had been available for up to 37 weeks after state benefits ended at 26 weeks. If federal lawmakers don’t act soon, an estimated 37,600 more people would be affected statewide.

This means they may not have enough money to pay for basics, such as food, housing and job-seeking expenses — money that flows right back into local economies.

On Tuesday, six U.S. Senate Republicans supported Democrats’ efforts to advance a three-month extension bill to a floor vote. Some balk at the $6.4 billion price tag. Lawmakers in both houses must compromise and find a way to pay for it, as they’ve done more than a dozen times since 2008.

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Assertions that emergency aid discourages people from looking for work is insensitive and wrong. To receive benefits in the first place, recipients must prove they’re applying for jobs. Some are using this time to learn new skills to be competitive.

Federal jobless benefits can’t go on forever. But the U.S. has not experienced such a prolonged period of high long-term unemploymentsince World War II. Prospects are especially dim when there are three job-seekers for every opening nationwide.

So look around.

A lot of neighbors, friends and colleagues are struggling to get back on their feet.

They want to contribute to the new economy.

Congress must help them get there.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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