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As 200,000 Lose Jobless Benefits Each Week, Senate Plans Unemployment Insurance Extension

Next week, the Senate returns from recess to a months-long battle over the extension of expiring programs providing benefits to millions of jobless Americans.

In March, the House passed a $9 billion bill to prevent benefit loss. The Senate rushed to pass the House version before the congressional recess started on March 26, but faced opposition from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who demanded that Democrats find a way to pay for the extension. Senate majority and minority leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) started negotiations on the issue, but failed to reach a compromise before recess.

While senators were in their home states, on April 5, some Americans actually started to lose their benefits – at a rate of 200,000 a week, the National Employment Law Project estimates. Indeed, this month alone, up to 1 million people will lose aid if some extension bill does not pass.

Members of Congress from both parties have stressed that the jobless benefits are not stimulus so much as necessary aid. “We will have to do things like extend unemployment benefits,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told Fox News. “That’s not a job stimulator. … We will do those things to take care of the families that are suffering right now.”

Thus, the pressure is on for Congress to act. According to parliamentary procedure, it will take a bare minimum of four days for the Senate to pass the benefits extension — and likely longer. To provide benefits to those who have lost them since April 5 and to those who will before the bill’s passage, Senate Democrats plan to push through a provision making the extension of benefits retroactive.

Two Senate aides say that Republican senators will offer pay-go and possibly other amendments to the benefits extension. Those amendments will likely delay the passage of the bill — meaning more people will lose benefits, if only temporarily.

If and when the Senate passes this month-long extension, it will need to take the exact same issue up again by May 5 — a point annoying Senate Democrats, a Senate aide says. Therefore, Democratic leadership has placed a long-term jobless benefits extension into the Tax Extender’s Act, currently in the House. But Democrats are scrambling to find additional funding sources for those benefits.

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