After Delays, Congress Passes Unemployment Benefit Extension

Nov 05, 2009

By Josh Bone

Millions of workers on the verge of exhausting their unemployment insurance are about to get an extension thanks to legislation overwhelmingly passed this week by both the Senate 98-0 and the House 403-12 after weeks of delay.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contains a package of unemployment insurance extensions that  provide 20 additional weeks of unemployment insurance for all recipients and 33 additional weeks for recipients in particularly hard-hit states. However, with continuous job losses and rising unemployment, many workers already have exhausted their benefits despite ARRA extensions.

The bill would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks for workers in all states. Workers in states with unemployment rates over 8.5 percent would receive 20 more weeks.  The legislation also includes additional unemployment insurance assistance for food stamp recipients, victims of sexual assault, and railroad workers.  The legislation, which is projected to cost $2.8 billion, would be paid for through a two-year extension of the unemployment insurance surtax on employers. The surtax has existed for 30 years.

This bill has been in limbo since its introduction in the Senate on Oct. 8 because some senators sought to change the funding mechanism or attach other amendments. The delay has been excruciating for the roughly 600,000 workers whose benefits have run out since Sept. 1. Those unemployed workers would be eligible for the extension contained in the bill, though they would not be able to apply the extension retroactively to cover time that has elapsed since their benefits initially expired.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill in the next few days, meaning that the long-term unemployed will soon be receiving a needed leg up as they continue to confront the extremely poor job market. 

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