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How the unemployment benefits deal Boehner rejected would have affected states

How the Senate bill Boehner rejected would have affected long-term unemployment benefits. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Less than a week ago, a group of 10 senators announced agreement on a deal to reinstate a long-term unemployment benefit extension that had expired in late December. Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) threw cold water on it, citing “serious problems” with it.

“[T]he bill is also simply unworkable,” he said in a statement. “Frankly, a better use of the Senate’s time would be taking up and passing the dozens of House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action.”

The map above shows where benefits stand today (top map) and how the Senate deal would have changed them (bottom map).

Boehner said his decision was based in part on a letter from an association of state unemployment benefit administrators. The group took no issue with extending benefits — different states have different opinions on the matter — but they said implementing the Senate deal would be difficult. The proposal included, for example, what the directors portrayed in a letter as an onerous requirement: That states pay benefits that would have been distributed had the program been extended into 2014. To implement that and other requirements could take one to three months, they wrote.

That Senate proposal sought to reinstate an extension of benefits that was allowed to expire at the end of 2013. Its expiration left approximately 1.3 million immediately without assistance because it snapped the maximum number of weeks of available benefits from more than 40 weeks in a majority of states to 26 in nearly all of them. (The Senate deal would reverse the process, as shown in the above map.)

Permanent benefits cover 26 weeks of unemployment, with the federal government covering administrative costs and states paying for the benefits themselves. But, in 2008, the federal government offered an extension in light of the economic downturn. Those extended benefits were modified a number of times—more were made available for states with higher unemployment—but Congress ultimately allowed them to expire at the end of December.

Advocates for continuing the extended benefits argue that while the economy has improved, there’s still a widespread long-term unemployment problem. Before the Great Recession, long-term unemployment peaked at 26 percent in June 1983. But during the Great Recession, that record was obliterated. It rose to about 45 percent nationally during the recession and has fallen, but remained above 26 percent in 41 states last year, as the map below shows.

Earlier this year, GovBeat’s colleagues Masuma Ahuja and Darla Cameron asked readers who had been out of work for long spells to share their experiences. Here’s a sampling of how they described life being long-term unemployed: