CHN: Unemployment Insurance Extension Awaits Senate Approval
On September 22, the House passed the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009 (H.R. 3548). The bill provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits to those who have lost their jobs, but only if they live in states with unemployment rates of at least 8.5 percent. (In September, 27 states plus the District of Columbia had rates at least that high.) The bill passed overwhelmingly, 331-83.
Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) hoped to move a more generous extension through the Senate quickly. The Senate plans to amend the House bill to provide an additional 14 weeks of benefits to jobless workers in all 50 states, and an extra 6 weeks of benefits in states with unemployment rates over 8.5 percent. Although the proposal has broad bi-partisan support, action in the Senate has been bogged down because Senators have not agreed on a floor strategy. Some Republicans want to force votes unrelated to unemployment insurance on politically sensitive issues. It is critical that action not be delayed any longer because each day 7,000 workers on average will exhaust their benefits without an extension. (See the statement by the National Employment Law Project: http://www.nelp.org/page/-/unemployedworkers/PR%2010.15.09.pdf .) Many of these workers have been looking for a job for over a year and a half. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in August the number of job seekers per job openings was 6.3 compared to 1.7 seekers per opening in December 2007 when the recession began (see http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/jolts_20091009/).
If the Senate version passes, workers who are currently receiving unemployment insurance or who become eligible by December 26 of this year could receive up to 93 weeks of benefits, and those in high-unemployment states – with rates at or above 8.5 percent – a maximum of 99 weeks of benefits. The benefits are paid out of a 30-year old fund built from an unemployment insurance surtax on employers of $14 annually per employee.
Once procedural issues are resolved, the Senate is likely to pass the legislation. It will then need to go back to the House where the more generous provisions are expected to pass.