Senate votes to extend unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate voted almost unanimously today to extend unemployment benefits for at least 14 weeks and expand a tax credit for homebuyers.

The final vote was 98 to 0 with Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri not voting.

“With each passing day without an extension, more and more Americans are losing the last lifeline they had to keep their heads above water in this difficult economy,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor. “People in my state say: ‘The unemployment rate may be 7.3 percent in Minnesota, but in my house it’s 100 percent.'”

The Senate bill would extend unemployment benefits for 14 weeks in states like Minnesota, which have unemployment rates below 8.5 percent. In states with higher unemployment rates the benefits would be extended for 20 weeks.

“I talked to Minnesotans all over the state who told me they didn’t know what they would do when their unemployment benefits ran out,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in a statement. “Because we passed this unemployment insurance extension today, we can tell these folks they don’t have to worry about that this winter. These are good, hard-working people who aren’t looking for a handout. They’re looking for a way to take care of their families. Until the economy recovers and the job market is back, unemployment benefits are absolutely vital.”

The measure would also extend the $8,000 first-time homebuyers credit to April 30 and provide a new $6,500 tax break for homeowners who have been in their residences for at least five years. The tax credit only applies to home purchases of $800,000 or less.

“The expansion of the homebuyer tax credit will be a welcome break for many Minnesota families during this difficult economic time,” Franken said.  “It will extend the closing deadlines, add a new tax credit for non-first time homebuyers, and raise the income eligibility limits.”

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