Washington State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sending unemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves to ship President Barack Obama a measure to restore lapsed benefits.
After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign the measure into law after a final House vote today.
It’s a relief to 2 1/2 million people who have been out of work for six months or more and have seen their benefits lapse. Under best-case scenarios, unemployed people who have been denied jobless benefits can expect retroactive payments as early as next week in some states. In other states, it will take longer.
State unemployment and labor agencies have been preparing for weeks for Congress to restore jobless payments averaging $309 a week for almost 5 million people whose 26 weeks of state benefits have run out. Those people are enrolled in a federally financed program providing up to 73 additional weeks of unemployment benefits.
About half of those eligible have had their benefits cut off since funding expired June 2. They are eligible for lump sum retroactive payments that are typically delivered directly to their bank accounts or credited to state-issued debit cards.
In states like Pennsylvania and New York, the back payments should go out next week, officials said. In others, like Nevada, it may take a few weeks for all of those eligible to receive benefits, said Mae Worthey, a spokesman for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
The Senate continued debating the measure a full day after a GOP filibuster was defeated by a 60-40 vote. Senate rules required 30 hours of debate, but missing no opportunity to seize a political edge, Democrats attacked Republicans for not waiving them and requiring an additional day of debate.
“Republicans are declaring an all-out war on unemployed Americans,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In fact, the measure could have been passed months ago had Democrats not insisted on coupling it with other, more controversial legislation, such as tax increases on hedge fund managers and on some small businesses that were used to renew a popular package of tax breaks for individuals and businesses.
The delays required two temporary unemployment insurance extensions — one came only after a lapse in coverage because Reid adjourned the Senate for its two-week Easter recess rather than engage in a time-consuming battle with Republicans. Benefits were restored retroactively.
Democrats have become more aggressive in attacking the GOP for opposing the measure, which is essentially limited to a $34 billion, six-month renewal of unemployment insurance for the chronically jobless.
Republicans say they support the benefits extension but insist any benefits be financed by cuts to programs elsewhere in the $3.7 trillion federal budget. Maine GOP moderates Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins were the only Republicans to support the bill Wednesday.
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to break with his party to oppose the bill.
Many Republicans have voted in the past for deficit-financed benefits extension, including as recently as March and twice in 2008, during the Bush administration.
But now they are casting themselves as opposing out-of-control budget deficits, a stand popular with their core conservative supporters and tea party activists.