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Published: Friday, 11/14/2008

Strickland prods Congress for help


COLUMBUS - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is among the nation's governors and mayors who are prodding Congress to jump-start the economy by increasing food-stamp payments, extending unemployment insurance, and boosting funding for Medicaid.

The groups said in separate announcements yesterday the best way to revive the economy is to hike spending at the local level.

Governors are promoting a federal spending plan that could total $126 billion in added dollars for Medicaid, highway construction, and job training. That includes $20 billion in federal Medicaid matching dollars over two years, $19 billion for ready-to-go highway projects, and $3.5 billion to avert a shortfall in Pell college aid grants.

The National League of Cities recommends extending unemployment insurance benefits by seven weeks or an additional 13 weeks in states with high unemployment rates.

In Ohio, with a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, Governor Strickland is asking Congress for aid to replenish Ohio's Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund so the state won't have to borrow from the federal government.

Many cities have difficulty borrowing money to pay for day-to-day operations and several states plan legislative sessions to deal with budget deficits.

Several economic stimulus proposals are kicking around in Washington, including President-elect Barack Obama's $50 billion spending plan, which would direct some funds for infrastructure spending and grants to state and local governments.

The National Governors Association has identified 3,000 highway projects that could be started immediately if federal money were available.

At least seven states have planned or are discussing special sessions to deal with budget shortfalls in the next few weeks. At least 31 states and the District of Columbia are now dealing with shortfalls in current budgets totaling $24.3 billion. Twenty-one states now project deficits for the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets, meaning even more cuts are likely without a quick economic turnaround.

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