Unemployment Rate Stayed Steady in February

After single-handedly derailing a stopgap spending measure last week to extend unemployment benefits, Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky relented this week, allowing the U.S. Senate to pass a 30-day unemployment benefits extension this week.

The $10 billion appropriation, which President Obama signed into law Tuesday, also covered the cost for an extension of unemployment benefits for laid off workers.

Bunning, who is set to retire, had repeatedly resorted to a filibuster, objecting to the addition of $10 billion to the deficit without Congress having identified a way to pay for the measure.

The dispute had already caused thousands of unemployed workers to see their unemployment benefits expire and led to a furlough of 2,000 Department of Transportation workers.

One of those affected was Joung Moon, an unemployed microbiologist in Texas whose benefits just expired, no unemployment check means she has to move out of her house.

"I don't know what's the next step," Moon told ABC News, grimacing.

The new pact extends jobless benefits for as many as 400,000 people, among other things.

States Short Billions

Among the 29 states that have run through their own unemployment insurance benefit funds, incidentally, is Bunning's home state of Kentucky, which has borrowed around $700 million from the Federal Unemployment Account. California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas all have borrowed more than $1 billion from the federal government since 2008; in fact, California alone has borrowed more than $7 billion.

Currently, there are three unemployment benefits programs. First, there are state-paid benefits. These usually last 26 weeks, and vary, depending on the state, usually averaging out to no more than a few hundred dollars per week.

When the state benefits run out, the unemployed can qualify for federally funded emergency unemployment compensation, followed, finally, by an extended benefits program, for up to 20 weeks. Some unemployment benefits, depending on the state, can run as long as 99 weeks.

During the last extended recession, in the early 1980s, most unemployment programs lasted no longer than 55 weeks.

Cher Horner, 62, lost her job at a Naples, Fla., newspaper where she sold classified ads. That was in November 2008. Since that time, her husband has been diagnosed with cancer. She had never filed an unemployment claim in her life, but she figured she had no other choice.

Horner's unemployment benefits, around $175 per week, run out in a few weeks unless she can get a federal extension -- which now may not be possible if Congress can't figure out a way to secure funding.

"I'm at age when I'd like to retire," Horner sighed. "It's to the point where we'll have to walk away from our home and move in with our daughter. I literally do not know what to do next. No one will hire me."

As for Wood, he's gone through all possible extensions of benefits and is not sure what he will do next. He has sent resumes to every restaurant in the area and hopes for the best.

"If my benefits could be extended, sure, that would be great," he said. "But I'm certainly not counting on the government to help me."

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