Congress puts more money into pockets of unemployed

WASHINGTON — The Senate last week finalized a bill that extends unemployment benefits by seven weeks, and by 13 weeks in states where jobless rates are higher than 6 percent.

The bill passed by voice vote, after clearing a procedural cloture vote by 89-6. The House had acted on Oct. 3.

President Bush signed the bill into law after the Labor Department reported that new benefit claims by laid off workers were the highest in 16 years and that more than 10 million people were looking for work.

Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and John Ensign, R-Nev., voted to advance the benefits bill.

States usually make available up to 26 weeks of jobless benefits. Congress passed a 13-week extension earlier this year, and acted again as the economy has shown no signs of improvement.

The latest extension should allow people to collect unemployment benefits through the holidays.

The unemployment bill was the only accomplishment by Congress during a one-week post-election session. Lawmakers failed to agree on broader bills that aimed to stimulate the economy.

They also left unresolved a plea by struggling U.S. automakers for $25 billion in assistance that the automakers said was necessary to avert an industry collapse. Congressional leaders left open the possibility of returning on Dec. 8 to take up the auto bailout.

Contact Stephens Media Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephens or 202-783-1760.

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