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Emergency Jobless Benefits Bill Narrowly Jumps Senate Hurdle

Millions of long-term jobless continue to lose out as country waits for Congress to take concrete steps

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

(AP Photo) The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to move forward a bill that will restore an emergency-benefits program for 1.3 million long-term jobless people across the United States, after lawmakers allowed those benefits to expire on December 28th.

Tuesday's "cloture motion," which permits the measure to move ahead, barely squeaked through, and mostly along partly lines with votes coming in at 60-37. Sixty votes were needed to pass.

The Senate is expected to officially vote on the bill later this week, after which it would be sent to the Republican-led House of Representatives "where it faces stiff opposition," as Reuters reports.

However, even before it moves to the House, Senate Republicans may still be able to negotiate changes that might limit the scope of the bill or require cuts in other parts of the budget in exchange.

Following the Tuesday vote, President Obama—who has supported the bill—said in a speech at the White House before a group of unemployed Americans, “We’ve got to make sure this recovery leaves nobody behind," following a financial crisis that “was so devastating...there are still a lot of people who are struggling.”

If the benefits are not extended, “it will hurt about 14 million Americans over the course of this year,” including family members of the jobless, Obama warned.

A Pew poll released Tuesday morning shows that long-term unemployment remains very high in the U.S.

"Nearly 10.3 million Americans were unemployed in November, and almost 4 million of them, or 38.8% of all unemployed, have been out of work for 27 weeks or more," Pew reports.

The bill in question deals with an emergency benefits package that extends aid to the jobless during periods of high unemployment. Such benefits, which normally run up to 26 weeks per person, were extended to 47 additional weeks due to the 2008 economic crash.

Congress left those extensions out of a budget deal passed at the end of 2013, allowing roughly 1.3 million of those long-term unemployed to loose their benefits.

The exemption has been blasted by critics such as John Nichols who described it as "cruelty for the sake of cruelty" and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who agreed that it was also "bad economics."

"Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks," AP reports.

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