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The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Saturday that extends and raises unemployment benefits.
Democrats will now look to get that pandemic aid bill to President Joe Biden in time to prevent a gap in jobless benefits, which are slated to expire next weekend.
It’s perhaps too late to stop that from happening, according to some experts.
“The unfortunate reality is, we waited a little too long,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, an unemployment expert and policy advisor at Employ America. “They needed a bill to [President Biden] by about Valentine’s Day.”
The House aims to approve the Senate version of the plan in the coming days and send it to Biden to sign into law.
Democrats look to pass their latest rescue package before March 14, the day when the current $300 per week supplement and other temporary programs expire.
Absent another extension, millions of long-term unemployed would lose income support — falling off the so-called benefits cliff.
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More than 18 million total Americans were collecting jobless aid as of mid-February, according to Labor Department data.
American Rescue Plan
After significant delays, Senate Democrats on Friday reached an agreement to extend unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 and pay an extra $300 a week. (They would also make the first $10,200 in unemployment aid non-taxable to prevent surprise bills. The provision will apply to households with incomes under $150,000.)
They passed the American Rescue Plan on Saturday in a 50-49 party-line vote, as Republicans questioned the need for another broad spending package.
The legislation differs somewhat from the version the House passed last Saturday. That bill offered jobless benefits to Aug. 29 and raised them by $400 a week.
It seems likely Democrats will get the bill to Biden’s desk by March 14. But certain administrative steps and technology hurdles make it an almost foregone conclusion that there will be a multi-week gap in benefits for some workers anyway, experts said.
“I think there’s a subset of people whose benefits will end on this March 14 cliff,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
These delays also occurred earlier in the pandemic — after the CARES Act was passed in March 2020, and again after measures like Lost Wages Assistance over the summer and the Continued Assistance Act in December.
Some states have managed better than others, though.
Federal data suggests nearly 3 million people fell off the co-called benefits cliff after Christmas, for example.
States must typically wait for guidance from the Labor Department on how to implement new rules after a law passes. They must then code those rules i