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Jobless aid not extended by Senate

Benefits to run out for many

By Stephen Ohlemacher
Associated Press / July 2, 2010

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WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million laid-off workers won’t get their unemployment benefits reinstated before Congress goes on a weeklong break for Independence Day. And hundreds of thousands more will lose their benefits in coming weeks.

The House voted 270 to 153 yesterday to extend jobless benefits for people who have been laid off for long stretches, but the Senate has not passed any bill containing that measure. For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered a similar measure Wednesday night before most senators adjourned for vacation.

Just over 1.3 million people — including about 40,000 in Massachusetts — have lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May, according to the Labor Department. By the end of the week, the number will jump to 1.7 million.

“It is hard to understand how anybody can come to this floor and say, for 1.7 million people and their families, this is not an emergency,’’ said Representative Sander Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “There is no excuse for voting no.’’

The measure would extend payments for up to a total of 99 weeks for people whose state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. The money would have been borrowed, adding to the budget deficit.

The payments average a little more than $300 a week.

Republicans, tapping into voter anger about the growing national debt, said they would support extending the benefits if the bill was funded.

“Americans are not receiving their unemployment checks because Democrats refuse to pay for these benefits at a time of record federal deficits,’’ said Republican Representative Dave Camp of Michigan.

“I challenge you to look people in the eye and tell them that you voted no,’’ said Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia. “Tell them as they swallow their pride that you don’t care.’’

The measure stands a better chance of passing the Senate after a replacement is named for Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, who died Monday.

The measure fell two votes short of the 60 needed to advance Wednesday night.

Two Republicans — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine — voted for the measure. Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, voted against it.

“Unfortunately, Senator Brown is using his clout as a key vote to deliver a $19 billion break to the financial elites on Wall Street who crumbled our economy,’’ Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said yesterday, referring to Brown’s stance against forcing banks to pay fees to fund the financial regulation bill. “Real people are suffering and every week more will suffer without his vote on an unemployment extension. . . . He’s chosen to help nameless, faceless businesses who are doing fine over real, working-class families who are truly suffering.’’

Brown had earlier introduced a plan to use federal stimulus funding to pay for unemployment assistance, as well as fund summer jobs and provide additional Medicaid funding.

“No one is disputing the value of these very important programs, especially in my home state of Massachusetts,’’ Brown said on the Senate floor. “But we also have to make tough choices, and we have to live within our means.’’

Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report.