President Barack Obama speaks about unemployment benefits on Tuesday during an event in the East Room of the White House (Susan Walsh / AP)
Washington — A key U.S. Senate vote Tuesday cleared the way for a possible revival of federal unemployment benefits for more than 44,000 Michiganians and others nationwide who last month were kicked off the program.
Extending Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for another three months cleared a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate by a 60-37 vote. Six Republicans joined Democrats in securing the 60 votes necessary to move forward the legislation that offers up to 37 additional weeks of unemployment in Michigan when the jobless exhaust their 20-week state benefits.
Michigan’s U.S. Sens. Carl Levin of Detroit and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing joined fellow Democrats to back the $6.5 billion extension they argue is a vital lifeline for the unemployed in Michigan, which has the third-highest jobless rate in the country at 8.8 percent. The average benefit in Michigan is $276 a week.
A final Senate vote on the legislation is expected later this week, but the program faces stiff opposition from Republican leaders in the U.S. House who want the program’s restoration offset by other spending cuts before consideration.
Michigan GOP U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land of Byron Center bucked the trend Tuesday by saying she would support the unemployment extension if she were in office because those who have been hurt by the economy should be taken care of. Land is running to replace Levin, who is retiring.
“It’s about making the right decision here,” Land told The News. “We can’t play politics with this. We’ve got to help those folks who’ve been hurting.”
U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, has been pushing for the unemployment extension.
“Extending unemployment insurance is an investment with a proven economic return, and it is the right thing to do for Michigan families,” Peters of Bloomfield Township said in a statement. “The economic recovery has been fragile, and there are too many folks still struggling to support their families as they look for work.”
President Barack Obama urged passage of the unemployment extension Tuesday, saying workers laid off through no fault of their own need the security as they search for a job.
But if the unemployment extension passes the U.S. Senate, its prospects look grim in the House. Speaker of the House John Boehner has said he would consider a plan that had accompanying spending cuts, which the Senate legislation does not include.
Democrats counter the three-month extension would give lawmakers time to consider longer-term solutions.