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Congress moves to restore unemployment benefits 

After more than a month without federal assistance, 13,700 unemployed residents of San Luis Obispo County can expect to qualify for extended unemployment insurance payments. On July 20, Senate Democrats mustered the 60 votes they needed to end debate on a bill that would renew assistance, and includes tax credits for energy efficiency and tax relief for small businesses. It now needs a simple majority vote for passage in both houses before it can proceed to the president’s desk and become law, which is expected to happen this week.

Under normal circumstances, anyone who has worked for six months can collect a government check for 26 weeks provided he or she is searching for new work. Due to the extreme recession, Congress passed a bill in 2008 that extended those benefits for an additional 73 weeks, but that extension expired last month, leaving long-term unemployed workers without support. In the last four months, 615 SLO residents exhausted all 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and won’t be eligible for more.

In a press statement, Senator Barbara Boxer said, “I am very concerned that too many unemployed Californians are being denied unemployment benefits as they try to get jobs in a difficult economy. I strongly support extending unemployment benefits, which economists say help stimulate our local economies because they are immediately spent in our communities.”

The Business and Career One Stop is a commercial employment service in San Luis Obispo. Kathy Marcove, the employment services manager there, told New Times, “People got much more serious about finding work when the benefits were halted.” She said the job market is more competitive than it’s been in years, but jobs do exist for people who look hard enough. “If you’re collecting unemployment, you should be treating the job search like full-time work,” she said.

Most Republicans opposed the extension, which is unfunded and will cost $38.9 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Through his press office, Rep. Kevin McCarthy said, “The American people need jobs and need them now, not more borrowing for unfunded programs that do not directly address the fundamental issue of long-term job creation. Anything that falls short of the goal of creating long-term employment for Americans is not good enough.” McCarthy said Republicans support a plan that would extend the same benefits while covering the cost with unused stimulus funds.

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