WASHINGTON – The Iraq war funding bill that Congress is sending to the White House will extend weekly benefits for jobless Americans hurt by the tough economy and rising unemployment.
The legislation, upon President Bush's signature, will give an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to jobless workers who have exhausted their regular 26 weeks of benefits.
Unemployment benefit checks average $299.14 a week nationwide, but they vary widely from state to state — ranging from $404.39 in Hawaii to $178.67 in Mississippi.
The extension will run through March, although unemployed workers who have started to get the extra benefits by then could get them for the entire 13 weeks.
Extending the benefits follows five straight months of falling payrolls and an unemployment rate that jumped half a percentage point to 5.5 percent in May, the biggest one-month increase since 1986.
Congress has extended unemployment benefits before during periods that turned out to be recessions: twice in the 1970s, again in the early 1980s and 1990s, and most recently from March 2002 through December 2003.
The National Employment Law Project estimates that 4 million workers will be eligible for the extension over the next year, including 1.1 million workers who will be immediately eligible for assistance.
To qualify for the extension, jobless workers will have to have worked 20 weeks or its equivalent before being laid off. Democrats wanted to strip that from the bill, saying it would keep 10 percent of the unemployed from getting government help. Republicans argued that the restriction keeps people from working for days and then collecting months of benefits.