Congress boosts jobless benefits as claims hit 16-year high

November 21st, 2008 - 9:25 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 21 (DPA) The US Congress agreed Thursday to extend unemployment benefits, a small portion of the massive fiscal stimulus sought by some Democrats, as the government said jobless claims hit a 16-year high last week.A $6-billion measure to extend benefits by at least seven weeks was passed by the Senate in a voice vote after the lower House of Representatives passed the same bill in October. The total time that unemployed can receive benefits varies by state, but is typically 26 weeks.

President George W. Bush has reversed his original opposition to the extension and will sign the bill, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday.

Both chambers held legislative sessions this week to address the economic crisis - a rarity between Nov 4 elections and the induction of the new Congress in January.

Democrats had been pushing for a fiscal stimulus package of some $150 billion to help keep the economy out of recession, but ran into opposition from Republicans and settled instead for extending unemployment claims. Talks on a $25-billion bail-out for the US auto industry have also stalled.

The US Labour Department Thursday said first-time unemployment claims rose to 542,000 last week, the highest level since 1992.

About 1.2 million jobs have been lost so far this year in the US as the world’s largest economy deals with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

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