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Unemployment benefits: Jim Bunning relents, Senate passes extension

When Sen. Jim Bunning lifted his block, the Senate approved a 30-day extension of federal unemployment benefits. More than 200,000 unemployed Americans were set to lose benefits, half of whom already had stopped receiving unemployment checks.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / March 3, 2010

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. heads for the weekly caucus lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. Bunning blocked a vote on extending unemployment benefits.

Harry Hamburg/AP

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New York

In a sprint on Tuesday night, the US Senate passed a 30-day extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits, then raced it to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

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The passage and enactment of the legislation means that state agencies can begin sending checks to thousands of unemployed Americans who were in danger of losing their benefit if Congress did not act.

Groups involved with unemployment issues believe passage of the extension may have allowed some states enough time to cut checks for those who are already eligible to receive the extended benefits. However, almost half of the 200,000 people per week affected by the extension are filing for the first time.

Worried about not getting checks

“Those are the ones we are worried about not getting their checks this week,” says Andrew Stettner of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which advocates for the unemployed. “We know there will be delays.”

The extension means if an individual was about to exhaust their state benefits and about to exhaust a tier of emergency unemployment compensation, they are eligible to apply to move up to the next tier. However, if an individual is about to exhaust their final tier or extended benefits, this will not help them.

“This does not add more weeks of benefits, it just extends the deadline in which people can qualify for either Emergency Unemployment Compensation or extended benefits,” says Judy Conti of NELP in Washington. (Monitor report on states hardest hit by delay on unemployment benefits here.)

The 30-day extension of the benefits will cost the federal government about $10 billion.

The battle over how or whether to pay for it became a focal point in the Senate – especially for Sen. Jim Bunning (R) of Ky. who held up consideration of the legislation unless it found a way to pay for it. Congress has already passed legislation requiring it to pay for any new spending, but it waived that requirement for the unemployment legislation.

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