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Dissident Democrats Seek Broader Extension of Benefits

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was thwarted Wednesday, at least temporarily, from passing legislation to extend unemployment benefits for workers in states where the job market has been hit hardest.

Jeanne <Shaheen>, D-N.H., blocked Reid's attempt to win unanimous consent to move the benefits extension.

The House passed an extension bill (HR 3548) on Sept. 22 by a vote of 331-83. That measure would provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits eligibility only to jobless people who live in high-unemployment states, defined as those with a three-month average unemployment rate of more than 8.5 percent.

Currently, that comprises 27 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

<Shaheen> and her allies - 14 other Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats - want the bill amended to allow extended eligibility for workers in all 50 states. Under the House-passed bill, New Hampshire residents would not qualify.

"Unemployed workers face equally severe challenges no matter which state they live in, and they should be given the support they need," <Shaheen said. "Extending unemployment benefits is a fundamental part of helping families make ends meet between jobs, and I urge my Senate colleagues to act quickly and fairly so that every unemployed American worker gets the support they need."

Under the current system of emergency benefits, jobless people are eligible for at least 46 weeks of unemployment checks, and those in states where the unemployment rate is more than 6 percent are eligible for 59 weeks.

The system, implemented under last year's supplemental spending bill (PL 110-252) and this year's stimulus law (PL 111-5), is set to expire at the end of the year.