Both houses of Congress on April 15, 2010, approved another short-term extension for unemployment insurance benefits and a COBRA health insurance premium subsidy for jobless Americans.
President Barack Obama signed the legislation (H.R. 4851) into law just a few hours after it passed the House and Senate. The legislation had been delayed several times as senators grappled with how to pay for the measure’s $18 billion price tag.
When he signed the bill, the president thanked Congress for passing the temporary benefits extension, saying it was critical to help struggling families make ends meet.
“Millions of Americans who lost their jobs in this economic crisis depend on unemployment and health insurance benefits to get by as they look for work and get themselves back on their feet,” Obama said in a written statement. “But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year.”
The new law will provide relief to jobless workers whose unemployment benefits expired on April 5, 2010. According to the law, these workers must reapply for long-term unemployment benefits to receive their payments retroactively.
After moving past the procedural hurdles, the Senate approved the Continuing Extension Act of 2010 by a vote of 59-38. Republican leaders in the Senate had expressed concerns that the benefits extension was not funded and would add substantially to the growing federal deficit.
The contentious debate forced Senate leaders to amend the original version of the legislation passed by the House in March and extend the unemployment benefits until June 2, 2010, and the COBRA premium subsidy until May 31, 2010. The original version of the extension bill passed by the House would have extended the COBRA subsidy program until April 30 and the jobless benefits until May 5.
In addition, the new law will delay a proposed 21 percent reduction of Medicare payments to doctors. Just two hours after the bill emerged from the Senate, the House passed H.R. 4851 by a vote of 289-112.
Congressional leaders decided to push through another short-term extension of the unemployment benefits as members of the House and Senate grapple with legislation on how to fund the programs through the end of 2010. In March 2010, the Senate passed an amended version of legislation (H.R. 4213) that would extend popular tax breaks for individuals and businesses. If enacted, the legislation would continue long-term unemployment benefits and the COBRA premium subsidy until Dec. 31, 2010.
The House approved the original version of H.R. 4213 in December 2009. However the Senate changes to the bill required that the two versions be reconciled and approved by both houses of Congress in identical form before the president can sign the bill into law.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM Online.