The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that extends unemployment benefits for two months in 2012 (until the end of February). This means benefits will continue to be paid, including for those nearing the end of the maximum 99 weeks.
Republican and Democratic senators opted for the two-month extension after they could not agree on a yearlong deal for 2012.
The bill still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Barack Obama.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer indicated in a statement that Obama would sign the two-month extension into law if it reached his desk.
However, it is unclear whether the Republican-led House will pass it next week.
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“We have not signed off on anything at this point, and no decisions will be made until we talk to our members,” said Kevin Smith, a representative of Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, according to The New York Times.
If no extension is passed, then about 2 million Americans could lose their unemployment-benefit checks next month, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates. These checks average about $300 per week.
Then, about 4 million additional Americans would lose their benefits during the rest of next year, according to the NELP.
Commenting on the possibility of the two-month extension, Judy Conti of the NELP said, “It's not the best holiday present, but it gets them through the first part of the year,” according to The Hill newspaper.
Assuming the two-month extension passes, Congress must decide early next year what it wants to do after February. While the Democrats want a maximum of 73 weeks (99 weeks in total, if one counts the regular 26 weeks) of unemployment extension, the Republicans want fewer.
For a detailed breakdown of how the unemployment extension benefits work, click here.