WASHINGTON — State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sending unemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves to ship President Barack Obama a measure to restore lapsed benefits.
After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign the measure into law after a final House vote today.
It's a welcome relief to 2-1/2 million people who have been out of work for six months or more and have seen their benefits lapse.
Under best-case scenarios, unemployed people who have been denied jobless benefits because of a partisan Senate standoff over renewing them can expect retroactive payments as early as next week in some states. In other states, it will take longer.
State unemployment and labor agencies have been preparing for weeks for Congress to restore jobless payments averaging $309 a week for almost 5 million people whose 26 weeks of state benefits have run out. Those people are enrolled in a federally financed program providing up to 73 additional weeks of unemployment benefits.
About half of those eligible have had their benefits cut off since funding expired June 2. They are eligible for lump-sum retroactive payments that are typically delivered directly to their bank accounts or credited to state-issued debit cards.
In states like Pennsylvania and New York, the back payments should go out next week, officials said. In others, like Nevada, it may take a few weeks for all of those eligible to receive benefits, said Mae Worthey, a spokesman for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
The Senate continued debating the measure a full day after a GOP filibuster was defeated by a 60-40 vote. Senate rules required 30 hours of debate, but missing no opportunity to seize a political edge, Democrats attacked Republicans for not waiving them and requiring an additional day of debate.
A modest effect
Economists say the measure will likely have a modest beneficial effect on the economy. It represents less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the size of the $14.6 trillion economy, and is far smaller than last year's $862 billion stimulus legislation. Republicans have blocked Democratic add-ons, such as aid to state governments, that could have meant a greater economic boost.