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Senate votes to extend jobless lifeline

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Senate on Wednesday voted 59 to 39 to restore unemployment benefits to 2.5 million jobless Americans, ending a seven-week stalemate.

The bill, which would push back the deadline to file for extended unemployment benefits until the end of November, now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass on Thursday.

After the Senate vote, President Obama urged the House to act swiftly and pledged to sign the bill soon afterward.

The jobless stopped getting their checks in early June, after Congress failed to extend the deadline to apply for benefits. Senate Republicans, as well as Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, prevented the legislation's passage, saying it should be paid for first. They suggested covering the $34 billion tab with unused stimulus money, a step the Senate Democratic leadership rejected.

Federal unemployment payments, which last up to 73 weeks, kick in after the 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.

The payments will be retroactive to the previous deadline of June 2. But it could take up to a month for states to start sending the checks again, experts said.

Lynda Kahn of Coral Springs, Fla., can't wait to get that check. She stopped getting benefits last week and applied for Medicaid, only to be turned down because she doesn't have dependent children. But she did get a supermarket gift card from a local charity to supplement her $200 a month food stamp allotment.

Kahn depends on her unemployment check, which was $275 a week plus a $25 stimulus-funded supplement that will be discontinued. She lost her job as a manager for a doctor's office last August.

"It covers my mortgage payment," she said.

Similarly, Michael Tait of Locust Grove, Va., hopes that Congress passes the extension before he runs out of benefits next week. He receives $410 plus the $25 supplemental.

Since he lost his job as a vice president at a water treatment company in January, he has applied for more than 200 jobs, including at a gas station, supermarket and pharmacy, with no success. The 64-year-old was finally forced to apply early for Social Security in late June, which he didn't want to do since he will lose $252 a month for not waiting until his full retirement age of 66.

If Congress extends the deadline, Tait and his wife won't have to dip into their retirement savings and will be able to catch up on some bills.

"We wouldn't have to live week to week," he said. To top of page

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