The House has already passed a 30-day extension, but Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., blocked Majority Leader Harry Reid's effort to bring the bill to a vote Thursday in the upper house, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Reid, D-Nev., called for the 30-day extension as a short-term measure to give Congress more time to work out legislation that would extend unemployment benefits by as much as a year.
The extension also affects COBRA, the program allowing laid-off workers to buy into their previous health insurance.
The National Employment Law Project predicted 5 million people could be without work and without unemployment benefits by June if nothing is done. While economists say the recession has bottomed out, job losses remain high and new jobs are few, with the Labor Department reporting 496,000 people filed new claims for unemployment last week, up 22,000 from the previous week.
"Long-term unemployment is unlikely to loosen its grip on our economy anytime soon," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.