One step closer to more jobless benefits

Senate starts process of extending unemployment insurance by up to 20 weeks. Final vote may not come until next week.

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By Tami Luhby, senior writer

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NEW YORK( -- The Senate on Tuesday finally began considering a bill to extend unemployment benefits by up to 20 weeks.

The legislation would lengthen benefits in all states by 14 weeks. Plus, those that live in states with unemployment greater than 8.5% would receive an additional six weeks. The proposal would be funded by extending a longstanding federal unemployment tax on employers through June 30, 2011.

The extension has been stalled in the Senate as Democratic and Republican leaders try to reach a compromise over several amendments, including extending the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit beyond Nov. 30.

A final vote may not happen until early next week.

The move comes more than a month after the House passed legislation that extends benefits by 13 weeks in high-unemployment states. If the Senate passes its bill, the two must then be reconciled.

Lawmakers have twice lengthened the time people can receive checks to as much as 79 weeks, depending on the state. The average weekly benefit ranges from $197 in Mississippi to $427 in Massachusetts.

Unemployment last month hit a 26-year high of 9.8%. Experts expect the rate to top 10%, and are divided over when companies will start hiring again.

Act soon

Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to act soon. Some 7,000 people a day are running out of benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project. Some 1.3 million will exhaust their benefits by year's end unless an extension is passed.

The White House weighed in on the issue Tuesday, saying that helping unemployed workers also boosts the economy.

"The administration supports providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits to Americans who are suffering from long-term joblessness due to the economic downturn," the White House said in a policy statement. "Millions of Americans want employment but cannot find it, and the administration is committed to supporting these Americans as they look for work and struggle to raise their families and pay their bills." To top of page

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