House approves $154 Billion jobs package

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The House Wednesday overwhelmingly approved extending the filing deadline for unemployment benefits and the COBRA health coverage subsidy through the end of February.

Later, the House narrowly approved a $154 billion job creation package that would provide funding for infrastructure projects and keep teachers and emergency personnel on the job.

Congress has been rushing to extend the filing deadline for the safety net benefits before lawmakers leave for winter recess. As it stands now, the deadline to apply for federally paid unemployment benefits and for the 65% insurance subsidy is Dec. 31.

The measure, part of a defense spending bill that passed by a 395-to-34 vote, 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.

Those who run out of their 26 weeks of state-paid coverage in 2010 would not be able to apply for federal benefits unless there's an extension. The jobless currently receiving extended federal benefits, which are divided into tiers, would stop getting checks once they complete their tier.

If the deadline is not extended, one million jobless Americans will lose their benefits in January. 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.

Jobs bill

Separately, House lawmakers approved a $154 billion job creation package by a 217 to 212 vote.

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.

While the President talked about boosting infrastructure funding at the forum, lawmakers did not incorporate his push for home energy-efficiency incentives nor small business hiring tax credits.

Obama has been traveling throughout the nation, pushing his job-creation agenda. This includes the so-called "Cash for Caulkers" program, which calls for greater incentives for homeowners to get new energy-efficient appliances, windows and other such items.

"This is an area that has huge potential to grow. That's why I'm calling on Congress to provide new temporary incentives for Americans to make energy-efficiency retrofit investments in their homes," the President said Tuesday. "And we want them to do it soon."

The House may not have included the energy efficiency program because the administration has not yet worked out the details, said K. Whitney Stanco, analyst with Concept Capital in Washington. The Senate could add the provision when it takes up the measure.

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

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