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Jobless one step closer to regaining benefits

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Senate took the first step Monday to extend the deadline fpr the jobless to file for unemployment insurance.

Monday's action, a procedural step narrowly approved by a 60 to 34 vote, clears the way for a final vote, which will likely come later this week. The $9.2 billion bill would be retroactive to the April 5 deadline and would extend benefits through May 5.

More than 200,000 jobless Americans were expected to stop getting checks last week after lawmakers failed to extend the deadline to file for federally paid benefits. A total of a million people could lose benefits this month if the Senate doesn't act, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Though the measure generally enjoys bipartisan support, it has gotten caught in the divisive politics pervading Capitol Hill. Republicans blocked the extension's passage late last month, saying the bill should be paid for. Republican Senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio supported the bill.

The bill also:

--Extends the deadline to file for COBRA health insurance subsidy through April 30.

--Prevents a 21% reduction in Medicare payment rates for doctors through April 30.

--Extends the National Flood Insurance Program through April 30.

--Extends the copyright license used by satellite television providers through April 30.

Vital lifeline

Consumer advocates are urging lawmakers to quickly approve extending unemployment insurance, which they term a vital lifeline. Some 11.2 million people now receive unemployment insurance, with 6 million of them collecting extended benefits, according to the law project. Though the economy is slowly improving, the unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.7% and the average duration of unemployment is 31.2 weeks.

"The jobs crisis is a crisis for all Americans, employed and unemployed alike -- so hopefully when Congress returns from recess, it will move past pointing fingers and playing games, and confront the national jobs emergency," said Christine Owens, the law project's executive director.

Federal unemployment benefits, which last up to 73 weeks, kick in after state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. These federal benefits are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Lawmakers have already approved two short-term extensions of the filing deadline since late December. Both the House and the Senate also have passed bills that push back the deadline to file for extended benefits until later in the year, but those measures need to be reconciled.

CNN Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this story.

Are you about to run out of extended unemployment benefits or have you already done so? Are you hoping Congress will extend benefits once again? If so, send an email to realstories@cnnmoney.com and you could be profiled in an upcoming piece at CNNMoney.com. For the CNNMoney.com Comment Policy, click here. To top of page

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