Apr 20, 2010

COBRA Subsidy, Unemployment Benefits Extended to June

The battle over continued extensions of the COBRA subsidy and emergency unemployment benefits continues in Congress. Last week, Congress passed -- and the President signed -- another stopgap measure, continuing these programs through May 31 (COBRA) and June 2 (unemployment benefits). Still under consideration: a bill that would continue these benefits through the end of the year, as part of a larger budget package. Although both the House and Senate have passed a version of this budget bill, they are sufficiently different to require reconciliation and another vote before becoming law.

This time, Congress waited long enough to extend these benefits that some people faced a gap in coverage. The original programs expired on April 5, but the short-term extension passed on April 15. Those whose unemployment benefits ran out must now reapply to receive compensation retroactively for the time they missed.

The unemployment benefits extension helps only those who had not yet exhausted their regular and extended benefits. Currently, between regular state benefits, the extended benefits program (which provides an additional 13 to 20 weeks of benefits), and the four tiers of extended benefits available through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, unemployed workers in some states can collect up to 99 weeks of benefits. (Because some of these benefits depend on the state's unemployment rate, fewer total weeks of benefits are available in some states.)

The extension Congress passed will help workers who have not yet used up all of these benefits, by continuing the existence of these programs. However, workers who have already exhausted all available benefits through these programs won't be helped by the extension. For these very long-term unemployed, the only hope is the Congress will add a fifth tier to the emergency benefits program, making benefits available beyond the current 99-week maximum.