Still time to fix lapse in jobless benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress left for a two-week vacation Friday
without extending jobless benefits for people who have been out of
work for more than six months.
But that may not be as bad as it sounds. The impact of the
benefit cutoff will be limited, so long as lawmakers quickly fix
the problem when they return next month. The same holds true for a
lapse in authorization for generous health subsidies for the
unemployed and for a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to
Dropping the ball on jobless benefits doesn't put Congress in a
flattering light. But unlike an episode three weeks ago, when
Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning held up a nearly identical
measure over deficit concerns, Democrats don't seem poised to reap
political gain from this round of GOP obstruction.
The impasse means thousands of people will begin to lose jobless
benefits when a current extension of unemployment insurance expires
on April 5. In addition, a 65 percent subsidy for health insurance
benefits for the unemployed under the COBRA program expires
The expiration of unemployment insurance means that people who
have been out of a job for more than six months will gradually lose
eligibility for additional weeks of benefits that are fully
financed by the federal government. The first six months of
unemployment benefits would not be affected, since they are the
responsibility of the states.
But someone whose six-month state benefits are running out after
April 5 won't be eligible for a new 20-week "tier" of federally
financed benefits so long as the program has lapsed. A person
already receiving such benefits won't see them run out until they
apply for additional weeks.
That means perhaps one in 50 of the 11 million people now
receiving unemployment checks would be affected in the first week
of the benefits expiration, according to the National Employment
Law Project. Almost 1 million people would see their benefits
exhausted by the end of April.
The Democrats in control of Congress promise that any lost
benefits will be made up for, so even the relatively few jobless
people who may miss checks should eventually get their money,
though they could face bureaucratic hassles.
The more generous jobless aid started in 2008 and was extended
through last year by the economic stimulus bill. With unemployment
averaging almost 10 percent nationwide, Democrats and Republicans
alike want to see the benefits extended. The most recent extension,
passed earlier this month, was supposed to buy time for
House-Senate negotiations on a yearlong extension.
The expiration of health care subsidies next week won't affect
people already on the program. It would mean that people who lose
their jobs next month can't get the subsidy until Congress restores
It's a long-standing practice on Capitol Hill to pad the
national debt to pay for emergency jobless benefits, and the
long-term extension would do just that. But with the deficit
projected at $1.5 trillion, Republicans are starting to balk. "I
think you'll see a much greater commitment now to fiscal
responsibility," said Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in
the Senate.
For Democrats, the episode exposed rifts. Many Democrats say the
unemployment benefits are an emergency and that financing them with
tax revenue or budget cuts reduces their stimulative impact on the
economy. But Democratic deficit hawks are sympathetic to the GOP's

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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