Jobless aid will soon flow again to millions after President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a bill to extend emergency unemployment insurance, capping months of partisan debate over the measure's cost and benefit to the economy.
Obama signed the six-month, $34 billion measure after it passed the House and Senate earlier in the week.
Political squabbling held up the bill, which will extend aid for 2.5 million people whose benefits have expired, for months. On Wednesday, Democrats broke a Republican filibuster threat that had stalled the measure for weeks. Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were the only Republicans to vote for the bill. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to oppose it.
Benefit money in some states, including New York and Pennsylvania, is expected to begin flowing as early as next week.
Unemployed, Underemployed and Out of the Labor Force
"Americans who are fighting to find a good job and support their families will finally get the support they need to get back on their feet during these tough economic times," Obama said in a statement.
The average payment is slightly more than $300 per week. Recipients must demonstrate they are actively looking for work, an uphill struggle for many with unemployment at 9.5% -- twice what's considered healthy.
At least 8 million people have lost their jobs during the recession, bringing the total number of unemployed to 14.6 million. As many as 10 million more may be underemployed -- part-time employees who'd like to work more, or those who have given up searching and simply left the workforce.
What this all means is that it's possible that between 20% and 25% of working-age Americans may be either unemployed, underemployed, or out of the labor market altogether -- a shocking statistic by any measure.
Politically Charged Bill Won't Fix Economy
Leading up to the vote, President Obama used GOP opposition to paint Republicans as cruel politicians who don't care about the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession. The $34 billion unemployment benefits extension would add about 2% to the projected budget deficit of $1.56 trillion.
Republicans said they supported the extension in principle but wanted the measure to be paid for by unused stimulus funds. Democrats argued that would undercut the stimulative effect of the measure.
Many analysts agree that the bill will have positive short-term impact on the economy because cash-strapped recipients will quickly spend the benefits on essentials like food and rent. But the extension alone won't be nearly enough to generate the kind of economic growth the country needs for a robust recovery.
Obama Signs Unemployment Benefits Extension