One of the hurdles blocking the extension of unemployment insurance benefits for about 2 million long-term unemployed workers has been eliminated.
A small group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on March 13 reached an agreement that would extend benefits for another five months - gathering enough support to prevent a filibuster by opponents. The extension would be retroactive to Dec. 28, 2013, when benefits expired.
Legislators who have been against extending benefits cite the cost, which runs about $10 billion. The Senate compromise pays for the benefits in part by extending customs user fees and allowing certain pension plans to prepay premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., lawmakers say.
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The deal also would deny unemployment benefits to those who had earned $1 million or more in the previous year. And starting with 27th week of unemployment benefits, job seekers would receive personalized assessments and referrals to employment services, lawmakers say.
This movement in the Senate is particularly good news for older workers.
"Older workers have a lower unemployment rate among the average worker, but when unemployed, they are unemployed for longer periods of time," says Maurice Emsellem, program director with the National Employment Law Project.
Those needing benefits, however, can't count on getting checks immediately. Senators must vote on the legislation, which they are expected to do after returning from recess on March 24.
Then the legislation must get the thumbs-up from the House.
"The big hurdle is the House. That's really the question," Emsellem says.
The bipartisan support in the Senate helps the chances of passage in the House, he says.
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After all that, states must gear up to pay current benefits for the long-term unemployed as well as retroactive payments going back to late last year. This could take weeks, experts say.
"Some states will be more set up to process checks quickly; others historically have had problems," Emsellem says.
"It's a huge hardship on the unemployed," he says. "They are dealing with the reality of no income."
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