Senate OKs filing extension for jobless

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Jobless Americans will soon get two more months to file for unemployment benefits and the COBRA health coverage subsidy, under a bill passed by the Senate early Saturday morning.

The measure, which was approved by the House on Wednesday, would extend the filing deadline through the end of February. The president is expected to sign the legislation soon.

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Without the legislation, one million jobless Americans will lose their benefits in January. As it stands now, the deadline to apply for federally paid unemployment benefits and for the 65% insurance subsidy is Dec. 31.

Congress has been rushing to extend the filing deadline for the safety-net benefits before lawmakers leave for winter recess. The measure, part of a defense spending bill, would also maintain the stimulus-funded $25 boost in unemployment benefits through February and provide more money for food stamps.

It would also extend the COBRA subsidy to 15 months, up from the current nine months.

Last month, Congress 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.

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

The Senate is not expected take up the House's $154 billion job creation package until the new year.

Last week, the House narrowly approved the measure, which provides funding for infrastructure projects and keep teachers and emergency personnel on the job.

The House bill would take $75 billion from the remaining Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to fund $48 billion in infrastructure projects, 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.

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. 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 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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