The legislation, recognizing the lingering distresses of the recession, passed the Senate Wednesday on a 98-0 vote and could come up in the House as early as Thursday, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bill was "vital to Americans who have lost their jobs as a result of the deepest recession in over three-quarters of a century."
The bill, with a price tag of some $24 billion, would provide every American running out of unemployment insurance benefits this year with an additional 14 weeks. The out-of-work in states with jobless rates at 8.5 percent or greater would get six weeks on top of that.
It would also extend for seven months an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers that was enacted as part of the $787 billion stimulus package passed last February and is set to expire at the end of this month. The program would be expanded with a $6,500 credit for homebuyers who have lived in their current residences for five years.
Finally, it would allow businesses that have incurred losses in 2008 and 2009 to seek refunds for taxes paid on profits over the past five years.
The package, said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a leader on the unemployment issue, will "help nearly 2 million Americans who are still unable to find work, protect small businesses struggling in this challenging economic climate and stimulate economic activity to help create jobs and grow our economy."
The extension would be the fourth since June of last year and could result in giving an out-of-work person in one of the harder-hit states up to 99 weeks of benefits, well above the previous record of 65 during the 1970s.
Supporters argued that this help was necessary when 15 million unemployed are competing for about 3 million jobs and 7,000 people are exhausting their benefits every day.
"There is no place today in the United States that does not see a serious crisis in unemployment," said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, where the 13 percent unemployment rate exceeds the national rate of 9.8 percent.
The $2.4 billion cost of extending unemployment benefits is offset by extending through June 2011 the federal unemployment tax that employers pay for each employee.
The bill is H.R. 3548.
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