WASHINGTON (AP) - State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sendingunemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves toship President Barack Obama a measure to restore lapsedbenefits.
After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passedthe measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign themeasure into law after a final House vote on Thursday.
It's a welcome relief to 2½ million people who been out ofwork for six months or more have seen their benefits lapse.
Under best-case scenarios, unemployed people who have beendenied jobless benefits because of a partisan Senate standoff overrenewing them can expect retroactive payments as early as next weekin some states. In other states, it will take longer.
State unemployment and labor agencies have been preparing forweeks for Congress to restore jobless payments averaging $309 aweek for almost 5 million people whose 26 weeks of state benefitshave run out. Those people are enrolled in a federally financedprogram providing up to 73 additional weeks of unemploymentbenefits.
About half of those eligible have had their benefits cut offsince funding expired June 2. They are eligible for lump sumretroactive payments that are typically delivered directly to theirbank accounts or credited to state-issued debit cards.
In states like Pennsylvania and New York, the back paymentsshould go out next week, officials said. In others, like Nevada, itmay take a few weeks for all of those eligible to receive benefits,said Mae Worthey, a spokesman for the Department of Employment,Training and Rehabilitation.
In North Carolina, Employment and Income Department spokesmanAndrew James says to expect a wait of two to six weeks.
The Senate continued debating the measure a full day after a GOPfilibuster was defeated by a 60-40 vote. Senate rules required 30hours of debate, but missing no opportunity to seize a politicaledge, Democrats attacked Republicans for not waiving them andrequiring an additional day of debate.
"Republicans are declaring an all-out war on unemployedAmericans," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader HarryReid, D-Nev. "Even though Democrats have the votes to giveunemployed workers the safety net they deserve, Republicans arecallously delaying the vote for an entire day."
In fact, the measure could have been passed months ago hadDemocrats not insisted on coupling it with a host of other, morecontroversial legislation, such as tax increases on hedge fundmanagers and on some small businesses that were used to pay torenew a popular package of tax breaks for individuals andbusinesses.
The resulting delays required two temporary unemploymentinsurance extensions — one came only after a lapse incoverage because Reid adjourned the Senate for its two-week Easterrecess rather than engage in a time-consuming battle withRepublicans. Benefits were restored retroactively.
Democrats have become more aggressive in attacking the GOP foropposing the measure, which has been stripped down so that it'sessentially limited to a $34 billion, six-month renewal ofunemployment insurance for the chronically jobless.
Republicans say they support the benefits extension but insistany benefits be financed by cuts to programs elsewhere in the $3.7trillion federal budget. Maine GOP moderates Olympia Snowe andSusan Collins were the only Republicans to support the billWednesday.
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to break withhis party to oppose the bill.
Many Republicans have voted in the past for deficit-financedbenefits extension, including as recently as March and twice in2008, during the Bush administration. But now they are castingthemselves as opposing out-of-control budget deficits, a standthat's popular with their core conservative supporters and teaparty activists whose support they're courting in hopes of retakingcontrol of Congress.
Democrats tout the economy-boosting effect of unemploymentchecks since most beneficiaries spend them immediately, and theysay that paying for them with cuts to other programs dilutes thestimulative effect. But a proposals but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.,to spread the spending cuts over the upcoming decade garnered 54votes — including 14 Democrats — only to fail becauseReid had placed Coburn in a parliamentary situation requiring atwo-thirds supermajority to prevail.
But the numbers amount to less than one-quarter of 1 percent ofthe size of the $14.6 trillion economy, and are far smaller thanlast year's $862 billion stimulus legislation. Republicans haveblocked Democratic add-ons, such as aid to state governments, thatcould have meant a greater economic boost.
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