House Passes Unemployment Extension

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The House has passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits through the end of November.

However, the Senate has so far failed to overcome a filibuster and is not likely to pass a bill until after it returns from the weeklong July 4 holiday recess (see Senate Again Fails to Pass Unemployment Extension). The unemployment extension had originally been attached to a package of about 50 different extensions of expired and soon-to-expire tax breaks for individuals and businesses. The only extension to pass the Senate so far has been a three-month extension on the closing date for home purchases to qualify for the Homebuyer Tax Credit.

Republicans argue that the bill would add $33 billion to the deficit and want the money to come out of unspent stimulus funds, while Democrats argue that the unemployment assistance should qualify as emergency spending. Approximately 1.7 million people will have lost their unemployment benefits by the end of this week without the extension.

The House passed H.R. 5618, the Restoration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act, on Thursday by a vote of 270-153. The legislation would retroactively restore Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits that began to phase out at the end of May and continue the EUC program through November. In addition, the legislation would restore full federal funding for the permanent-law Extended Benefits program through November.

The bill also includes two beneficiary protections: the continuation of a rule that conditions state eligibility to offer federal unemployment benefits on an assurance that the state is not cutting the level of regular unemployment benefits; and a safeguard included in the House-passed jobs package (HR 4213) that prevents EUC claimants from having their benefits cut if their intermittent earnings requalifies them for regular, state unemployment benefits, which may provide lower payments because the claimant’s more recent wages were lower.

Unlike the House jobs package (HR 4213), the legislation does not include an extension of the Federal Additional Compensation program, which increases all unemployment insurance benefits by $25 a week.

“This issue is fundamentally an emergency for our country and our economy,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., a sponsor of the bill. “Unemployment benefits have been considered, and passed as emergency spending under both Democratic and Republican Congresses and Administrations. I cannot understand how anyone could come to this floor and say for 1.7 million people and their families this is not an emergency. There is no excuse for voting ‘no.’ It has been noted that the Senate is out of session. We must pass this so it is the first item of business when they return. The only reason this extension has not passed the Senate in recent days is because there could not be found more than two Republicans [Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine] to vote for this extension. That is a shame and it is shameful. This House needs to lift that shame off of the shoulders of everyone in this institution and pass this bill so that millions of American workers get the benefits they earned and deserve.”

He noted that by the end of next week, without further action, 2.1 million people will have lost their benefits. By the middle of July, when the Senate can address the issue again, 2.5 million will be without unemployment benefits assistance, which averages about $300 a week, or roughly half of the recipient's previous wages on average. “For a family of four that average check is only 74 percent of the poverty level,” Levin added.

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