A bipartisan group of 10 senators introduced a bill that could have enough votes to renew jobless benefits dating back to December for more than 2 million Americans struggling with long-term unemployment, but support in the House is uncertain if a bill passes the Senate.
Benefits expired on Dec. 28 for those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, leaving approximately 37 percent of the unemployed without a benefits check for continuing to search for work. The Senate tried several times since then to reach agreement on the issue, but Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-NV., on Thursday announced an agreement to reauthorize long-term unemployment insurance benefits for five months. Reed and Heller said in a joint statement they would “have more than enough votes to advance the measure in the U.S. Senate.”
“I am so glad that both Democrats and Republicans have come together on a proposal that will finally give Americans certainty about their unemployment benefits,” Heller said in the statement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV., said in a statement the bill would be voted on by the full Senate shortly after the chamber returns from a recess in two weeks.
“In Nevada alone, 26,000 unemployed workers would see their lifeline restored,” Reid said.
The bill would be paid for by extending "pension smoothing" provisions from a 2012 highway bill set to phase out this year, by extending customs user fees through 2024 and by raising employers' taxable income by allowing them to postpone contributions to employee pension plans. People who made more than $1 million gross adjusted income per year at their previous job would not be eligible for unemployment insurance payments.
If the bill passes the Senate it is unclear whether it will survive a House vote. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would consider extending the unemployment benefits if there was a proposal to offset the cost. Boehner’s office on Friday said they had “no immediate update.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently criticized President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for 2015, arguing that further welfare proposals would discourage people from working.
“Republicans believe in a different vision: one that shrinks the welfare rolls by growing the employment rolls,” Ryan said in a statement in response to the budget earlier in March.The challenge facing the long-term unemployed
is difficulty gaining the confidence of businesses to hire them after being out of work for so long. The labor force participation rate shrank to 63 percentage points in February 2014 compared with 63.5 percent in February 2013, according to the Commerce Department, which indicates that some have become discouraged and stopped seeking jobs.
The Labor Department said claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 48,000 to 2.86 million as of March 1, which could improve as the economy slowly recovers and warmer weather encourages more consumer spending.Co-sponsors of the Senate bill are Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Mark Kirk, R-IL., Jeff Merkley, D-OR, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dick Durbin, D-IL.