The Senate Has a Deal on Unemployment Insurance

The package is expected to pass after the Senate returns on March 24.

Job seekers wait in line to enter the San Francisco Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitmore on July 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
March 13, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

Sen­ate ne­go­ti­at­ors have reached an agree­ment on ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits to the 2 mil­lion job­less Amer­ic­ans who have not re­ceived their checks since the pro­gram ex­pired in Decem­ber.

The deal was an­nounced Thursday even­ing, just be­fore sen­at­ors re­cess for 10 days.

The agree­ment will ex­tend for five months the fed­er­al un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance pro­gram (which be­ne­fits those who have been out of work for at least six months). Be­cause the new pro­gram will in­clude ret­ro­act­ive be­ne­fits from Decem­ber, the ex­ten­sion would ex­pire for all be­ne­fi­ciar­ies in late May.

The agree­ment is sim­il­ar to one pro­posed by Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans just last week.

The bill is paid for by ex­tend­ing cus­toms user fees through 2024 and a pro­cess called “pen­sion smooth­ing” that al­lows em­ploy­ers to re­duce their pay­ments to em­ploy­ees’ pen­sions. The fi­nal agree­ment would not pre­vent in­di­vidu­als from col­lect­ing both un­em­ploy­ment and dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits sim­ul­tan­eously, as pre­vi­ously pro­posed by Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio.

The bill also re­forms the over­all pro­gram by ask­ing state and fed­er­al agen­cies in­volved to de­term­ine why an in­di­vidu­al re­mains un­em­ployed and of­fer “per­son­al­ized as­sess­ments” as to how that per­son can im­prove their pro­spects for find­ing work, un­der a pro­vi­sion cham­pioned by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. It also builds on an earli­er pro­vi­sion pushed by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jon Test­er, D-Mont., that would pre­vent in­di­vidu­als from re­ceiv­ing the be­ne­fits who earned a gross ad­jus­ted in­come of $1 mil­lion or more the pre­vi­ous year.

Be­cause of next week’s re­cess, a vote is not ex­pec­ted un­til after sen­at­ors re­turn to Wash­ing­ton on March 24. A Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an aide said that the deal would en­sure that suf­fi­cient Re­pub­lic­an votes will be avail­able for pas­sage (five are needed), but that all sev­en who co-sponsored the GOP ex­ten­sion may not vote in fa­vor of the meas­ure.

The bill is co-sponsored by five Re­pub­lic­ans already: Port­man and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

This will mark the fourth time this year that Sen­ate lead­er­ship has brought an un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pack­age to the floor. The last ef­fort, back in Feb­ru­ary, came just one vote short of the 60 needed for pas­sage.

A Sen­ate deal is still far from guar­an­teed to pass the House, where Re­pub­lic­ans have ex­pressed op­pos­i­tion to ex­tend­ing the be­ne­fits. House Speak­er John Boehner has in­sisted he will not bring an un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance fix to the floor un­less it is fully paid for and also in­cludes a sep­ar­ate job-cre­ation pro­vi­sion.

This post was up­dated at 4:15 p.m.

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