Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) plan to introduce new legislation next week that would restore federally-funded unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless for up to five months -- the latest incarnation in a months-long effort by the two to broker a bipartisan deal that will pass the House.
The new legislation is a significant revision to the Reed/Heller bill that passed in the Senate earlier this year but was never brought up for a vote by the House GOP leadership.
The new bill would not include retroactive payments for jobless Americans who stopped receiving emergency unemployment insurance when the federal program expired in December, which was a major component of the previous bill.
If passed, the new legislation would allow any unemployed American whose federal aid was cut off in December to receive unemployment insurance payments for as many weeks as they had remaining of eligibility when the benefits ceased.
"This means the benefits will be available going forward for the long-term unemployed, and those that were cut off when the program expired will be able to pick up where they left off," Reed said in a statement provided to the Washington Post on Friday. "So, for instance, if you were eligible for 6 more weeks of EUC benefits when the program was cut off on December 28, and you are still looking for a job now, you are eligible to receive federal UI help for those 6 weeks. Our goal is to try to help those out of work get the help they need."
Under the new legislation, the cost of the restored benefits would be paid for through offsets that include extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill (MAP-21), which were set to phase out this year, and extending Customs user fees through 2024.
Both pension smoothing and extending Customs user fees have been proposed before, and have not been supported by House Republicans in the past.
News that the bill might be proposed next week was first reported by the National Journal.
Under the federal unemployment system, someone who loses a job typically receives unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks. But in 2008, Congress voted to provide additional aid that made checks available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. Last year, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, at the end of December, Congress let federal aid lapse altogether.
That cut aid to 1 million people en masse in December. The ranks of those no longer receiving benefits has been growing by about 72,000 a week and currently stands at more than 3.1 million people, according to the National Employment Law Project, which lobbies on behalf of the jobless.
"I would rather fix the entire problem, but there’s not the votes to do everything," Reed said. "I understand that some people will say, ‘this is not fair. I was cut off for two months before I was able to find a job and this bill isn’t retroactive so it won’t cover me.’ I agree that this program should never have been forced to expire and it is unfair that partisan gridlock in the House prevented the bipartisan, Senate-passed Reed-Heller fix from ever getting an up or down vote and becoming law."