WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate late Wednesday unanimously passed legislation extending unemployment benefits and also significantly expanding a homebuyer tax credit that was championed by Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
The Senate voted 98-0 to extend unemployment benefits for the jobless by up to 20 weeks. In states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent and above -- in Georgia the unemployment rate is 10.1 percent -- the jobless could receive up to 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 per week.
As part of the unemployment package, the Senate also voted to extend an $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit through April 30.
The homebuyer tax credit program, which is currently set to expire Nov. 30, also would be expanded to give all homebuyers a $6,500 credit as long as they had been in their previous home for at least five years.
“We are about to do something very meaningful for the American economy,” Isakson said in a statement. "The bill in the end is a jobs bill."
Isakson, a former Atlanta-area real estate broker, has said extending and expanding the home buyer credit was essential to getting the beleagured housing market -- and in turn, the overall economy -- on track. He had been working on the tax credit idea for months, and co-sponsored the latest version with Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut as an amendment to the unemployment benefits bill.
The U.S. House has already passed an extension of unemployment benefits, but must still approve the homebuyer tax credit. A spokeswoman for Isakson said Senate leadership has gotten assurances from House leaders that the amendment will get approval, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.
Under the amendment passed by the Senate Wednesday, both the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit as well as the $6,500 tax credit for “move-up” buyers would end April 30.
It would be limited to homebuyers who make $125,000 or less as an individual or $225,000 or less as a couple. The cost of the home being purchased may not exceed $800,000.
In extending the unemployment benefits, the $24 billion bill will continue the benefits of more than 1 million out-of-work Americans who would otherwise run out of benefits by the end of the year.
The bill also provides tax relief for businesses that are losing money, allowing them to use net operating losses in 2008 or 2009 to offset taxable profits from the previous five years.
-Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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