Thousands to lose jobless benefits April 5

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer and Ted Barrett, CNN congressional producer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- Extended jobless benefits will run out for at least 212,000 Americans out of work after April 5 because the Senate closed up shop Friday afternoon without a deal to extend filing deadlines.

Senate Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on passing a House version of the extension of deadlines to apply for federal unemployment benefits and the COBRA health insurance subsidy.

In 10 days, those receiving state jobless benefits won't be able to apply for additional federally paid unemployment insurance, and anyone already receiving those checks could be cut off. They also won't be able to sign up for the 65% federal subsidy for COBRA unemployment insurance.

Key Democrats say they hope to pass a retroactive extension, compensating the unemployed for a gap in funding, after they return from a two-week break the week of April 12. If approved, it would be the seventh time the deadline has been extended since June 2008.

However, if lawmakers pass a retroactive package extending benefits, it could still take a couple of weeks to trickle down to some states with older processing systems, said Judy Conti, coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.

"Those who are getting these benefits have been unemployed for at least six months and are already living paycheck to paycheck," Conti said. "This could really be disastrous for people. They have no margin of error for that one week."

On Friday, senators in both parties blamed each other for breaking without a deal.

Democrats said extending this benefits package is an emergency situation and that they'd rather pass the House version extending benefits for another month and work toward a longer term solution. They point out that Republicans are willing to pay for war spending without offsetting that.

"We have a crisis here, this is an emergency," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. "We routinely vote to aid flood-stricken areas across the country, and here we are with a disaster that's causing thousands of people in my home state and others to be unable to provide for their families."

Republicans - in particular, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. - are balking at extending benefits without finding a pot of money to offset the spending. Extending benefits costs about $10 billion a month.

"If we're going to take the immoral choice and spend money that we don't have, and not eliminate programs that are not effective, I feel obliged to stand in the way of it," Coburn said.

Last week, the House - which adjourned Thursday - extended long-term unemployment insurance through May 5 and health insurance subsidies for jobless workers through April 30.

The measure would also pay 2,000 furloughed workers who were put on temporary unpaid leave because legislation to fund federal highway projects is also tied up in a different congressional fight. And it would also extend the national flood insurance program, which will expire March 28.

About 11.5 million people currently depend on jobless benefits. Nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work and a record 41.2% have been unemployed for at least six months. The average unemployment period lasts a record 30.2 weeks.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks. These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier. If the Senate fails to act, the jobless would stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

In February, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., single-handedly blocked a previous extension. This time, Coburn's fight gained support from several other Republicans, including Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who had previously opposed Bunning's objection. To top of page

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