The Senate has approved a two-month extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits and tax credits to help cover the cost of health insurance premiums for the unemployed.

The Continuing Extension Act of 2010 passed the Senate Thursday by a vote of 59 to 38. Later that evening, the House voted 289-112 to approve the bill, and President Obama signed it into law.

“Families in Montana and across the country are still struggling to get by, and we can’t leave them behind,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who introduced the bill. “We have a responsibility to make sure out-of-work Americans can still access the vital safety-net programs they need to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table while Congress works to pass a longer-term solution and create the jobs that will get our economy moving again.”

The Continuing Extension Act of 2010 (H.R.4851) also would ensure Medicare beneficiaries and military service members and their families could continue to see their doctors and prevent Americans living in poverty from losing access to vital safety-net services. Additionally, the bill would extend and restore other programs, including small business loan assistance, satellite television licensing and national flood insurance. 

Baucus, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has also authored a longer-term solution to extend these critical unemployment benefits through the end of this year. The Senate passed that bill, the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act (H.R. 4213), on March 10, and the House passed its longer-term extension bill December 9. Leaders in the House and Senate are now working to merge the two bills and send legislation to President Obama soon.

Baucus introduced a substitute amendment to the bill that passed Thursday to extend the programs through May, which will ensure the services do not lapse while Congress works to pass the longer-term extension.

The Continuing Extension Act of 2010 would extend federal unemployment programs retroactively, including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, through June 2, 2010. It also would extend eligibility for a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA premiums through May 31, 2010 and provide transition relief for individuals who lost their jobs between March 31, 2010 and the date of enactment.

The bill also would extend the current Medicare payment rates for physicians (preventing a 21 percent payment reduction) through May 31, 2010. In addition, the bill would ensure that certain doctors in outpatient facilities are eligible for health information technology payments under Medicare and Medicaid.

The legislation also would extend a provision maintaining 2009 poverty guidelines through May 31, 2010 to prevent a lowering of the poverty line. The bill also would extend the National Flood Insurance Program through May 31, 2010, and extend the copyright license used by satellite television providers through the same date.

In addition, the bill would provide compensation for federal employees furloughed March 1 and 2 as the result of the lapse in expenditure authority from the Highway Trust Fund.

The bill would also continue funding for loan programs that provide small businesses with extra capital. The bill would extend funding to reduce or eliminate fees under the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan guarantee program and the 504 loan program through May 31, 2010.