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House to vote on $167 billion in jobs measures

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The House plans to vote Wednesday on measures totaling about $167 billion that would extend the safety net for the unemployed and spur job creation.

Lawmakers expect to extend the deadline to file for jobless benefits and the COBRA health coverage subsidy by two months. As it stands now, the deadline to apply for federally paid unemployment benefits and for the 65% insurance subsidy is Dec. 31.

It would also maintain the stimulus-funded $25 boost in unemployment benefits through February and provide more money for food stamps.

The cost: roughly $13 billion, to be paid for by the federal government.

Congress last month passed a record-long extension of federally paid benefits, but the law only helps those who exhaust their lifelines by year's end. So while unemployment benefits now run as long as 99 weeks, depending on the state, not everyone will receive checks for that long a stretch.

If the deadline is not extended beyond Dec. 31, one million jobless Americans will lose their benefits in January. Some three million people will stop receiving checks by March, according to the National Employment Law Project.

About 9 million people currently depend on jobless benefits. One in 10 Americans are out of work and more than a third have been unemployed for at least six months.

Lawmakers in both chambers had introduced bills that would extend the unemployment benefits filing deadline through 2010 or beyond. But House Democratic leaders scaled back the effort in hopes of getting it through the Senate more quickly. Wednesday's effort will be part of the defense spending bill.

The Senate, meanwhile, is working to pass its own extension, said a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"Senator Reid recognizes that it will take some time for people to get back on their feet as a result of the economic collapse," a spokeswoman said. "He understands the need to continue programs such as unemployment compensation and COBRA which provide a safety net for those who are out of work through no fault of their own."

Jobs bill

Separately, House lawmakers plan to vote on a $154 billion job creation package.

The bill would take $75 billion from the remaining Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to fund $48 billion in infrastructure spending, as well as send about $27 billion to the states to prevent the layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters, according to sources within the House Democratic leadership. Some funds would also go to providing credit for small businesses.

The measure would pump more than $35 billion into highways and mass transit, as well as $2 billion for clean water projects and another $2 billion for the building and repair of affordable rental homes and public housing. The rest of the infrastructure funds would be spent on school construction and repair.

Lawmakers are looking to build on the $35.9 billion in infrastructure spending on highway and transportation projects contained within the $787 billion stimulus package. That measure created or saved more than 350,000 jobs and resulted in $500 million in tax revenue, said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn.

"We need the jobs and we need the investment in infrastructure," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The bill also includes $23 billion to help states save or create an estimated 250,000 education jobs over the next two years. It would fund positions for 5,000 police officers and include money to hire and retain firefighters. It also contains about $2 billion for other hiring and training programs, including Americorps volunteers and youth summer jobs. The measure also provides funding for training in high growth industries, such as health care and clean energy.

The jobs bill also contains roughly $79 billion in emergency safety net spending. It would provide a six-month extension to file for unemployment benefits and the COBRA subsidy, and would lengthen the health insurance coverage to 15 months from nine months. It would also provide more Medicaid money to the states, an issue of great concern to them as the ranks of those looking for state-funded health coverage swells.

States will have faced $256 billion in budget gaps between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2011, according to a recent report from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The effort, which is not likely to be heard in the Senate until next year, comes almost two weeks after President Obama held a jobs summit at the White House.

-- CNN Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report. To top of page

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