Senate advances long-term jobless benefits bill

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Thursday to advance legislation that would temporarily restore expired federal benefits for the long-term unemployed.

The 65-34 vote puts the Senate on a path to passing the bill next week. Its fate, however, is far from decided in the House where Speaker John Boehner has voiced opposition to the measure.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted with 54 Democrats and 10 Republicans in favor of advancing the bill. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against it.

The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which expired on Dec. 28, provided 14 additional weeks of benefits to those unable to find work after using up the 26 weeks of benefits that states typically provide. Arkansas provides 25 weeks.

When the federal program expired, an estimated 1.3 million job seekers lost benefits that averaged $300 a week. Additionally, about 72,000 jobless Americans run out of state benefits every week, according to Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would extend benefits for five months, retroactive to December 28.

Republican opposition focused mainly on how Democrats proposed to offset the estimated $9.9 billion cost of extending the emergency benefits through 2019.