CHN: House And Senate Pass Unemployment Benefit Extension
Bill Ready For President’s Signature
On Friday, May 23, 2003, the Senate approved legislation to provide 13 weeks of federal unemployment benefits over the next six months to workers who have exhausted their state benefits. The Senate passed the legislation (HR 2185) by voice vote, following approval in the House of the measure the day before. Senators had little choice but to pass the bill with no amendments as the House had already left for Memorial Day recess and would have been unavailable for conference. With the legislation approved in both chambers, Presidential approval is expected to occur before the federal program expires on May 31.
The federal unemployment benefits law (PL 108-1) was originally enacted in March 2002 as a response to the loss of jobs following the September 11 attacks. The law extended states’ 26 weeks of benefits with an additional 13 weeks of federal aid. Congress gave the original law (PL 107-147) a life span of five months, hoping that the economy would regain its strength by the law’s “sunset” date. The economy has yet to rebound and the unemployment rate is now at an eight-year high of 6 percent, with 322,000 jobs having disappeared this year alone according to the U.S. Department of Labor. When the President approves this unemployment aid extension, it will be the third time in 14 months. Democrats estimate that if the federal benefits were allowed to expire on May 31, 80,000 workers would lose their unemployment support each week.
Under HR 2185 unemployed workers will be eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits until December 31, 2003, when the law is set to expire again, with workers in 6 high-employment states – Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington – eligible to receive up to 26 weeks of federal aid. The estimated cost of the extension is $7.3 billion.
During Senate debate this week, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) repeatedly attempted to introduce legislation (S 923) that would provide 26 weeks of federally extended benefits to all unemployed workers, therefore allowing an additional 13 weeks to those who have already exhausted both regular and extended benefits. Republican leaders rejected the measure, instead taking up the house bill.
The House passed HR 2185 late Thursday night on a 409-19 vote, forcing Senate passage of the measure, after a week of intense pressure from advocates and out-of-work Americans across the country to extend the much-needed aid. Through phone-call and email-writing campaigns, rallies, and demonstrations, advocates and workers proclaimed that while an extension of the 13-week federal benefits is necessary before May 31, current law is not enough. According to the National Employment Law Project, “the decision to continue the program while only providing 13 weeks of assistance denies unemployment checks to more than one million workers who have run out of their limited federal benefits and still find themselves unemployed. Another 680,000 workers are expected to exhaust their federal benefits over the next three months.” Democrats in both the House and Senate will likely call for future votes to provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits.