WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering steps to ease the burdens of laid-off workers, including possible extensions of unemployment and health benefits, officials said Saturday.
The administration has stopped short of calling for a second economic stimulus package to augment the $787 billion measure approved this year. But with the jobless rate continuing to climb, President Obama said Saturday he is exploring "additional options to promote job creation."
Administration aides said possibilities include:
* Extending enhanced unemployment-insurance benefits beyond Dec. 31, when they are set to expire.
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* Extending a tax credit for laid-off workers who buy health insurance through the COBRA program. That program allows workers to keep their company's health insurance plan for 18 months after they leave their job, if they pay the premiums.
* Extending a tax credit for first-time home buyers. This credit also is set to expire soon.
The administration has discussed these possibilities with congressional leaders, officials said, but no decisions have been made.
White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers expressed interest in these ideas in an online interview with the Atlantic magazine.
"I don't know what the term 'second stimulus package' exactly means," Summers said. "We certainly need to continue to support people who are in need, whether it's unemployment insurance, or a COBRA program that for the first time provides that people who are laid off get supported in being able to maintain their health insurance."
In his weekly radio and Internet video address Saturday, Obama said his proposed health care overhaul would create jobs by making small business startups more affordable. If aspiring entrepreneurs believe they can stay insured while switching jobs, he said, they will start new businesses and hire workers.
"I hear about it from small business owners who want to grow their companies and hire more people, but they can't, because they can barely afford to insure the employees they have," Obama said. "One small business owner wrote to me that health care costs are, and I quote, 'stifling my business growth.' "
Dismissive Republicans blamed the continuing job losses on Democratic policies and said the president's health proposals won't help.