COBRA, unemployment benefits extended for two more months

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Congress extends COBRA, jobless benefitsIt shouldn't take long for unemployment and COBRA benefits to start flowing again, following President Obama's signature Thursday night on a two-month extension of unemployment benefits.

Benefits ran out for some unemployed workers April 5 after Republicans held up a vote on an extension just before legislators headed to the hinterlands for a two-week Easter recess.

The National Employment Law Project estimated that beginning April 5, about 214,000 unemployed people a week lost benefits prematurely because of Congress' failure to act.

That was all resolved -- at least temporarily -- Thursday. The House took the final vote on the extension Thursday evening and later that night the President signed it.

The immediate effect will be the extension of unemployment program benefits retroactively through June 2 for those who either lost them or were in danger of losing them. Congress also extended the special program in which the government pays 65% of the cost of COBRA through May 31.

Matthew Beck, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee, said the two month extension of the program doesn't change overall rules for the program.

Those rules: The maximum number of weeks anyone can get unemployment is 99 weeks. (The actual number varies by state.) In addition, the federal government will pay 65% of COBRA health care coverage for up to 15 months.

The bad new is that the "fix" is temporary. Congress still has to decide what to do with the unemployment program long term. So the politicking is likely far from over.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), praised the extension.

"Extending unemployment benefits is one of the most effective investments we can make in our economic growth -- because the money gets out the door and into the economy quickly," she said in a statement following the vote. "Tonight, we voted to secure this critical aid for the men and women who need it most."
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