House Approves Extension of Jobless Benefits
"People are hurting with no end in sight," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. "It is our responsibility as a Congress to stand up and help them weather these tough economic times."
But despite the strong 368-28 vote in the House, the bill's chances of becoming law this year are slim. On Thursday, Senate opponents rejected an effort to bring the legislation to the floor, possibly dooming it for the year. The Senate is in recess for the elections and it is unclear if it will reconvene after the Nov. 4 vote for a lameduck session.
The House bill would provide seven additional weeks of payments to those who have exhausted their benefits. Those in states where the unemployment rate is above 6 percent would be entitled to an additional 13 weeks above the 26 weeks of regular benefits.
Sponsors said the measure would result in distribution of about $6 billion in benefits. They said it would be funded through the existing federal unemployment trust fund.
Without congressional action, about 800,000 people would run out of their benefits in October, with that number growing to 1.1 million by the end of the year, sponsors said.
The Labor Department on Friday announced that payrolls fell by another 159,000 in September. The unemployment rate stayed at 6.1 percent.
Congress has enacted federally funded extensions seven times in the past 50 years during economic slumps - in 1958, 1961, 1972, 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2002.
The House also voted in June to extend unemployment benefits for three months, but that bill stalled in the face of opposition from Senate Republicans and a veto threat from the White House.
The Bush administration has argued that past extensions occurred only when the unemployment rate was considerably higher and that it was fiscally irresponsible to provide extra benefits in states with low unemployment.
Unemployment insurance is a joint program between states and the federal government that is almost completely funded by employer taxes, either state or federal.