March 12, 2010 -- Now that the U.S. Senate has approved a $149 billion jobs bill that extends both unemployment benefits and tax breaks for businesses, just what does the legislation mean for ordinary Americans?
"If this bill gets through the House of Representatives, it will almost certainly be helpful for struggling individuals," says Cindy Hockenberry, an economist and research coordinator for the National Association of Tax Professionals, a nonprofit professional group. "The bill is designed to stimulate the economy, and to do that you need to offer folks tax breaks and other incentives."
The measure, which passed the Senate Wednesday on a 62-36 vote, offers up some $26 billion in tax breaks for businesses and individuals, including extending through 2010 a variety of popular tax breaks that expired at the end of 2009.
Other highlights of the bill include:
Extending unemployment benefits to Americans out of work for more than a year, providing for a total of up to 99 weeks in most states.
Offering subsidies for unemployed workers in an effort to help pay for employer-sponsored health insurance.
Adding an individual income tax deduction for sales and property taxes, and a business tax credit for research and development.
Extending a variety of energy and alternative fuel tax credits.
$1.5 billion to help farmers affected by heavy rains, floods and other weather-related disasters.
"Investing in our nation's small businesses, cutting taxes for America's businesses, and bringing relief to families hard hit by the economic crisis are key to our economic recovery and long-term growth," President Obama said in a statement Wednesday. "I am grateful to senators in both parties who took one more step forward today in getting our nation back on a solid economic footing."
Other tax breaks in the bill include a deduction for college tuition for couples making less than $160,000 a year, and one for teachers who use their own money to buy school supplies.
There is a tax credit for community development agencies that invest in low-income neighborhoods, as well as a tax break for restaurant owners and retailers who remodel their stores.
This bill is "going to deliver badly needed relief to Americans who are hurting," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The Senate vote came despite protests from conservatives who say the bill adds too much to the $12.5 trillion national debt.
To defray the impact on the deficit, the measure helps the Internal Revenue Service crack down on abusive tax shelters.
Senate passage of the bill comes as the number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell for a second week, indicating that companies are nearing the end of payroll reductions as the economy recovers.
The Labor Department said this week that first-time jobless applications dropped by 6,000 to 462,000 in the week ending March 6. The number of people receiving unemployment insurance increased, while those getting extended benefits fell, according to Labor Department figures.
The measure now heads to the House where a number of Democrats are pushing for more aggressive job-creation measures in the face of the economic downturn.
Both chambers have now passed two job-creation bills, but they haven't hashed out their differences.
This story includes reporting from the Associated Press.