Relief is on the way for unemployed Americans whose benefits were set to expire.
The House of Representatives approved a bill that includes a provision that will extendunemployment benefits for up to 20 weeks in states with high unemployment rates. The vote was 403-to-12. Twelve republicans voted against the bill.
The Senate passed the measure 98-0 late yesterday. The bill is expected to land on the president's desk Friday morning, where he is expected to sign it into law.
The bill includes several measures designed to spur the economy, providing 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 National Employment Law Project, a nonpartisan group that tracks job issues, estimates that more than 1 million people would have had their benefits ended without the extension. Government data show more than 15 million Americans are currently unemployed, and close to a third of them have been out of work for more than six months.
The measure will also extend through April 30 a popular $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, while creating a new $6,500 credit for homebuyers who have been in their current residence for the last five years or more. The credit, which many say has boosted home sales in recent months, was set to expire after Nov. 30.
The National Association of Realtors estimates that by the end of November, the credit will have been used by 1.8 million homebuyers, at least 355,000 of whom would not have bought a house without the tax break, the realty trade group says.
The new bill defines a first-time homebuyer as someone who has not owned a residence within the past three years. The new credit would be available only for the purchase of principal residences priced at $800,000 or less.
The extension will cost $10.8 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Another provision in the bill allows businesses that had operating losses in 2008 and 2009 to seek refunds for taxes paid on profits over the past five years.
The money for this bill is a new appropriation, and not part of the $787 billion stimulus package.
Democrats and Republicans have been debating the bill for weeks, with Republicans unsuccessfully trying to attach a provision to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was part of last year's effort to aid ailing financial firms.
Party leaders in the Senate finally reached an agreement to vote last night, a day before Senate rules would have exhausted the objections by Republicans.