President Inks Benefits Extension

January 8, 2003 ( - Hours after passing through the House of Representatives, President Bush signed legislation authorizing additional unemployment benefits for up to 2.5 million Americans, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, which the Labor Department said had to be signed by Thursday to ensure no interruptions in benefit payments,provides 13 weeks of benefits for the unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of assistance.   An estimated 750,000 people will be immediately impacted, in addition to an estimated 1.6 million who are expected to become eligible for the federal assistance before the newly signed extension expires on June 1.

Previous federal benefits programs lapsed on  December 28 when Congress adjourned for the year without renewing the program.  

The House  earlier approved  the $7.25 billion plan by a vote of 416-4 (voting against the bill were  Republican Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Jeff Miller of Florida, Ron Paul of Texas and Scott Garrett of New Jersey)after the measure received unanimous approval in  the Senate . In a meeting with congressional leaders, Bush said the legislation “will bring some comfort” to unemployed workers.  

Weeks Worth?

However, Democrats, failing in an attempt to win approval for a more generous bill, said they were not thrilled with the GOP led measure.   Democratic Representative David Scott, a first-term Georgian who was sworn into Congress on Tuesday spoke to the measure not covering enough saying “not just 13 weeks.   We need 26 weeks at least.” 

Democrats said their proposal of an additional 13 weeks of benefits on top of the current 13 could easily be accepted by the Senate and signed into law by the President. The modification would assist approximately one million unemployed who have already exhausted their extra 13 weeks of benefits. The bid to alter the legislation failed in the House on a vote of 224-202. 

“Frankly, it’s the least they can do,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California of the bill. “But we can do better.”  Countering, House majority leader Tom DeLay said, “nothing is good enough” for Democrats. “I would venture to guess that they would have unlimited unemployment compensation so somebody could stay out of work for the rest of their lives.”

According to the AP the average weekly benefit was $249.92, citing Labor Department data.  The average benefit was lowest in Alabama, where jobless workers got $165.03 per week. The highest was in Massachusetts, where the average weekly unemployment benefit was $353.29.