Long-term job­less aid to flow again

Obama OKs restora­tion of fed­eral ben­e­fits af­ter con­gres­sional stand­off

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAY BRIEFING - By An­drew Tay­lor

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.

Carolyn Kaster

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.

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