House votes to extend unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON – Jobless workers in imminent danger of losing their unemployment benefits would get a 13-week reprieve under legislation approved by the House on Tuesday.

The House bill, which applies to 27 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher, would add to the already-record levels of benefits that have been available to the jobless as the country struggles to recover from its prolonged economic malaise.

It would not, however, give any extra benefits to the longtime unemployed in states that have lower levels of joblessness, including Nebraska, North Dakota and Utah.

The bill passed easily, 331-83, although the two parties cast the measure in different lights. Democrats said the relief was still needed despite positive signs that their policies were reviving the economy. Republicans said the high jobless rate proved that the Obama administration’s economic strategies weren’t working.

The bill, if passed, would offer a reprieve to more than 300,000 jobless workers who are slated to run out of unemployment compensation at the end of September and the more than 1 million expected to exhaust their benefits by the end of the year.

Republican Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky, a state that would qualify for more benefits under the bill, said the further extension of benefits was “yet another sign of the failure of this administration’s stimulus plan to create jobs.”

The House action reflects the continuing depressed state of the job market despite some signs that the economy is recovering. The unemployment rate now is 9.7 percent and economists see it topping 10 percent in 2010.

Some 5 million people, about one-third of those unemployed, have been without a job for six months, the highest number since data was first collected in 1948. There are nearly six unemployed for every available job.

“The job-finding situation is still dire,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the research and advocacy group National Employment Law Project. “Until we figure out how to create jobs there is so much collateral damage.”