By Jim Abrams, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — With no end in sight to the country's job market woes, the House has agreed to give the jobless in a majority of states another 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits.
The bill, which passed the House 331-83 , approves the extra three months of benefits for those jobless living in 27 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with unemployment rates topping 8.5%. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. The longtime unemployed in states with lower levels of joblessness would not get the extension.
The job market appears to be the last to recover from a recession that officially began in December 2007. Jobless benefits have already been extended to record lengths through federal intervention.
States offer 26 weeks of benefits, with the average payment about $300 a week. But with federal help, including provisions from the economic stimulus bill, the unemployed in states hardest hit by the recession can receive up to 79 weeks of assistance.
About 5 million of those unemployed, about one-third of the total, have been out of work for six months, another figure that far outpaces recent recessions. There are about six people looking for every job available.
"Providing these Americans with a modest economic lifeline is not only the humane thing to do but it's in the economic interest of the country," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., noting that every unemployment insurance dollar has $1.64 in positive economic impact by supporting existing jobs and the housing market.
He said the immediate effect of the bill would to keep assistance flowing to about 300,000 people, three-fourths of those expected to exhaust their benefits in September. Through the end of the year, it would protect more than 1 million from losing their benefits, he said.
One of the 17 Democrats to vote against the bill, Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, said he did so because the unemployed in his state, with its lower unemployment rate, did not qualify. The jobless in neighboring Mississippi are eligible.