Senate passes bill extending homebuyer tax credit, unemployment benefits
Updated 7:22 p.m.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that extends several measures designed to spur the economy and help people who have lost their jobs, including a provision that will extend unemployment benefits for up to 20 weeks in states with high unemployment rates. It represented Congress's latest intervention to help the country through its worst recession in decades.
The bill, which passed 98 to 0, is likely to be approved by the House on Thursday and then be rapidly signed by President Obama. It would provide unemployment benefits of at least 14 weeks for people out of work, while those in the more than two dozen states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent would receive up to 20 weeks of benefits.
The measure would also extend through April 30 a $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit and create a new $6,500 credit for homebuyers who have been in their current residence for the last five years or more.
Another provision allows businesses that had operating losses in 2008 and 2009 to seek refunds for taxes paid on profits over the past five years.
"We know that when an economy recovers, the unemployment rate is one of the last numbers to rebound," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "So even as our economy begins to turn around, jobs are turning around slower, and it is our responsibility to ensure the out-of-work are not left out in the cold."
The bill is part of a series of proposals Democrats are considering to help boost the economy and aid Americans who are out of work. While they are wary of casting the policies as a "second stimulus" -- the $787 billion bill passed earlier this year remains controversial for both its cost and the fact that unemployment remains high -- all of the provisions the Senate approved Wednesday were in the original stimulus legislation but set to expire. The money for this bill is a new appropriation, and not part of the $787 billion.
The bill had been delayed for weeks as Democrats and Republicans debated a number of issues not directly related to the provisions. Republicans unsuccessfully tried to attach a provision to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was part of last year's effort to aid troubled financial firms.
More than 1 million people would have had their benefits ended without the extension, according to the National Employment Law Project, a nonpartisan group that tracks the issue. More than 15 million Americans are now unemployed, more than a third of whom have been out of work for more than six months.
With enactment, the jobless in the hardest-hit states could receive up to 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 a week. That would well exceed the previous record of 65 weeks during the 1970s.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who had strongly pushed the tax credit for purchasing a home, said, "While there are signs the housing market is stabilizing, there is much more to be done. The credit has succeeded in lessening the glut of homes for sale, but our economy is still hurting."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Perry Bacon Jr.
November 4, 2009; 6:30 PM ET
Categories: Economy Watch
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