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House and Senate Extend Jobless Benefits; House Addresses Welfare Reform and Medicare Payments

On November 14, both the House and Senate approved, by voice vote, legislation (H.R. 5603 and H.R. 3529 respectively) that would extend unemployment benefits for laid-off workers.

The House-approved bill (H.R. 5603) would allow approximately 800,000 laid-off workers whose benefits expire on December 28 to continue to receive unemployment compensation for five additional weeks. The legislation includes a provision that would extend through February 1 benefits to laid-off workers in states with high unemployment rates.

H.R. 5603 also would extend the programs of the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193) through March 31, 2003. The extension would allow states to continue receiving federal funds at the FY2002 level for welfare programs, including child care subsidies and cash assistance grants.

On November 13, the House approved a continuing resolution (H. J. Res. 124) that would extend welfare programs through January 11. Members, however, expressed support for a longer extension to give them more time to reauthorize the 1996 welfare law.

H.R. 5603 also includes language that would grant the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) the ability to recalculate physician payments by clarifying that CMS cannot be sued if it changes the payments. Physicians participating in Medicare are scheduled to take a 4.4 percent cut in reimbursement for their services in 2003.

The Senate approved a more generous package for laid-off workers that would extend unemployment benefits for an additional three months past the December 28 expiration date. The Senate-approved bill (H.R. 3529) does not include provisions to extend the 1996 welfare law or to prevent Medicare payment cuts for doctors.

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