By John McDevitt
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Millions of Americans will continue to receive long-term unemployment benefits under legislation approved today in Congress, but the scope of the program is being scaled back to cover fewer people by the end of the year.
The measure, which also extends a payroll tax cut through the rest of 2012, begins to wind down the program of extended federal jobless benefits that Congress first approved at the height of the recession.
The bill reduces the current maximum 99 weeks of benefits to 73 weeks by September. For those in all but about a dozen of the highest unemployment states, benefits will be cut off after 63 weeks.
The benefits are for people out of work more than six months. The program has provided checks to about 18 million out-of-work Americans who exhausted the 26 weeks of state jobless benefits.
John Dodds, director of Philadelphia Unemployment Project, says there are four people for every job out there right now. And he says officials are hoping the economy will continue to recover.
“I think it’s very imporatant that the tax cuts for the middle class and the unemployment benefits be continued so the economy doesn’t run out of steam, and hopefully this will keep people going,” he told KYW Newsradio today.
Dodds says he hopes more people will be able to get back to work before benefits run out.
About 43 percent of the nation’s nearly 13 million unemployed have been without work for more than six months, double the rate of any other economic downturn since the Great Depression. If Congress had not reached a deal to reauthorize the program, about a million people would have lost benefits next month.
It was not immediately clear how many people might lose out on benefits later this year under the new plan. Currently, 22 states are eligible for 93-plus weeks of unemployment insurance; just 18 get the full maximum of 99 weeks. The average unemployed worker receives less than $300 a week in benefits.
The bill lets both parties claim victory: Democrats can say they preserved the unemployment program for another year, while Republicans may claim they won major concessions by scaling back the program.
Unless Congress extends the federal benefits again, people losing their jobs after next July 1st will get benefits for only 26 weeks.