Long-term jobless aid to flow again
Obama OKs restoration of federal benefits after congressional standoff
WASHINGTON — Federal checks could begin arriving again as soon as next week to millions of jobless people who lost up to seven weeks of unemployment benefits in a congressional standoff.
President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a restoration of benefits for people who have been out of work for six months or more. Congress approved the measure earlier in the day. The move ended an interruption that cut off payments averaging about $300 a week to 2.5 million people who have been unable to find work in the aftermath of the nation’s long and deep recession.
At stake are as many as 73 weeks of federally financed benefits for people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state jobless benefits. About half of the approximately 5 million people in the program have had their benefits cut off since its authorization expired June 2.
They are eligible for lump-sum retroactive payments, typically sent directly to their bank accounts or credited to state-issued debit cards. The program is being renewed through the end of November.
Thursday’s 272-152 House vote sent the bill to the White House. The vote was largely along party lines with only 31 Republicans voting for the bill, while only 10 Democrats opposed it. All of the Texas delegation’s Republicans voted against the measure while the Democratic Texans supported it.
Most Republicans opposed the measure because it would add $34 billion to a national debt that has hit $13 trillion. They said the aid should be paid for with cuts to other programs, such as unspent money from last year’s stimulus bill, which is earning mixed grades at best from voters as unemployment stands at 9.5 percent nationwide.
Opposition marked a change of heart for many Republicans who had voted for deficit-financed unemployment benefits in the past, including twice during George W. Bush’s administration. Earlier this year, Republicans twice allowed temporary unemployment measures to pass without asking for a roll call vote.
Opinion polls show that deficits and debt are of increasing concern to voters, especially Republicans’ core conservative supporters and the tea party activists whose support the GOP is courting in hopes of retaking control of Congress.
“Americans who are fighting to find a good job and support their families will finally get the support they need to get back on their feet during these tough economic times,” Obama said after signing the measure.
After seven weeks of wrangling by Capitol Hill lawmakers over how to pay for an extension of federally funded longterm unemployment assistance, President Barack Obama signed a measure restoring those benefits Thursday.