NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A glimmer of hope appeared Tuesday for those still unemployed, as legislation to resume long-term jobless benefits cleared a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate.
The vote to begin debate on the bill passed 60-37.
Among the supporters of extending the emergency benefits is Matt Mullen, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, who said many still haven't gotten back on their feet after the recession.
"Yes, the economy is improving, but it's really improving at a snail's pace," he said. "These individuals are trying to find work, and just by cutting them off so abruptly, we would just be doing a disservice to a lot of Tennesseans."
Both Tennessee senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted against the extension.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, has said he would consider such legislation but only if it includes a plan to pay for the program and put people back to work.
In Tennessee, Mullen said, the extension would provide a vital safety net for about 20,000 long-term job hunters whose efforts to get back into the workforce - like that of other jobless Americans - become tougher with each passing day.
"The employers are less likely to hire you if you've been unemployed for a certain amount of weeks," he said. "Outside of extending emergency unemployment benefits, there really hasn't been a lot of talk of how to help these long-term unemployed."
About 1.3 million workers lost all unemployment benefits on Dec. 28, 2013.
Without congressional action, another 3.6 million will see their benefits expire during this year.