The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly passed legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits to millions of Americans, and expand a popular tax credit to first time homebuyers. The House of Representatives is expected to quickly approve the measure and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
In an effort to provide another boost to the economy, the Senate passed the bill 98-0 late Wednesday.
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Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from the Western state of Montana, says the bill offers much-needed relief to nearly two million out of work Americans and extends unemployment insurance benefits in all 50 states. "Today we can be certain of immediate relief this bill provides that puts us one step closer to stabilizing and strengthening our economy for years to come and all of us are very proud of this very necessary step," he said.
The bill would also extend a popular tax credit program for first time homebuyers.
Baucus, who is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, says the program has already helped 1 1/2 million Americans purchase their home.
Senator Christopher Dodd says he believes the measure will help turn the economy around. The Connecticut Democrat, who is chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee, said he believes the measure will create jobs and encourage consumers to purchase items for their new homes. "We believe, while it's not the total answer obviously, that housing in many cases got us into a recession and we've learned historically that housing will get you out of a recession," he said.
Baucus says it will be some time before the economy starts turning around, but the bill is a positive move forward. "Together these programs help us take big steps toward boosting our economy. We are not out of the woods yet. More work remains. News of recent economic growth is promising, but today we still have 15 million Americans chasing three million jobs," he said.
The bill extends unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks, while people in high unemployment states would get 20 weeks in additional benefits.
It also extends a popular $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers for homes under contract by April 30. That program was set to expire at the end of this month.
And now, under the new legislation, homeowners who have lived in their current residences for at least five years may be eligible for a $6,500 tax credit on a new home purchase.