The case for extending an emergency program to help long-term unemployed Americans would diminish if the nation's jobless rate eventually drops to low-6-percent levels, the outgoing director of the National Economic Council told CNBC on Thursday. But presidential adviser Gene Sperling argued that now is not the right time.
On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000.
(Read more: Claims dip for 2nd week in a row)
A week from Friday, the government will release the December employment report. November's reading saw the jobless rate fall to 7 percent with 203,000 nonfarm positions created.
"We, as a country, have never cut off emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment was this high," Sperling contended in a "Squawk Box" interview. "Emergency unemployment benefits encourages more people to stay in the job market, because they lose those benefits if they're not actively looking for jobs."
The two-year budget deal, reached at the end of last year, did not include an extension of federal unemployment paychecks for people out of work for longer than six months. The program expired on Saturday, cutting off benefits for about 1.3 million people. "Over the course of the year, it will be 4.9 million people affected," Sperling said.