Congress Extends Unemployment Benefits

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The House and Senate both passed a bill Thursday restoring unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans. The benefits expired April 5 after Congress went into spring recess without passing an extension, leaving more than 400,000 unable to apply for continued benefits. The extension will keep benefits flowing until June 2, and will cost the government $18 billion.

     The measure also extends other federal programs through the end of May, including COBRA benefits, Medicare and national flood insurance.
     The bill allows those who were denied unemployment checks to collect them retroactively. Checks received by recipients of jobless benefits average $335 per week.
     The passage overcomes a filibuster instigated by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who initially stalled the bill by voting against an emergency unanimous-consent agreement for the extension.
     Coburn fought against the bill on the Senate floor, saying the bill stole money from American’s children and repeatedly displaying a poster-sized picture of a young girl named Madeleine to illustrate his viewpoint. Coburn suggested diverting money from the defense budget to pay for the bill.
     During debates, Republicans said the bill was only ballooning the $1.4 trillion budget, while Democrats argued that it was emergency spending that could help restore the economy.
     The extension gives the Senate and House time to come up with a long-term solution for providing benefits to unemployed Americans.
     Three Republicans voted along with Democrats to pass the bill – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who initially joined the majority in voting for the extension, voted against it Thursday.
     The number of people filing for unemployment benefits across the nation spiked on Thursday, rising by 24,000 new requests. That brought the total claimants to 484,000, the highest rate since late February, according to Labor Department reports.
     The news echoed fears expressed by Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke during an joint economic committee hearing Wednesday that the unemployment rate might remain “stubbornly high” even as the economy climbs back to normal.
     In March, the nationwide unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
     The approved measure was H.R.4851 of the Continuing Extension Act.
     The House passed the measure Thursday night 289-112, with 49 House Republicans voting with majority Democrats and 111 voting against it. The bill will proceed to President Obama’s desk for a final signature.

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