Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan deal Thursday that would renew federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, allowing for retroactive payments to go to millions of Americans who fell off the insurance program when it expired in late December.
Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), two of the main negotiators, each said a deal had been cinched that would allow for the legislation to pass the Senate in late March, but its outcome in the House remains up in the air.
Five Republicans and five Democrats signed on to the legislation — which likely will be unveiled later Thursday — giving supporters more than enough Republicans to clear the 60-vote hurdle that Senate conservatives have imposed, arguing its roughly $10 billion price tag is too high.
“It has now been 75 days since UI expired, and it needs to be renewed. We’re not at the finish line yet, but this is a bipartisan breakthrough,” Reed said in a statement.
“I’m pleased that we’ve reached an agreement that will get a sufficient number of Republican votes,” Collins told reporters.
Earlier in the day Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) signaled that the framework for legislation would create a five-month extension of the federal benefits plan for the jobless, backdating the extension to late December, when the program expired. It will run through the end of May, if it passes the House and is signed into law.
The bill would effectively restart a key aid program for long-term unemployed workers whose jobless benefits went beyond the state limits, which are roughly 26 weeks with some variation for each state.
The $10 billion cost of the federal jobless benefits would be offset by new fees on goods coming through U.S. Customs and an alteration to the way corporations contribute to pensions, Heller said.
Below is a description of the agreement reached in the Senate, as passed along by a Senate Democratic aide:
Legislation seeks to strengthen the U.S. economy while providing vulnerable job seekers and their families with a vital lifeline as they continue to look for work.
• Reauthorizes emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for 5 months and allows for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to December 28th.
• The proposal is fully paid-for using a combination of offsets that includes 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. The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
• Legislation includes a provision that ends federal unemployment insurance payments to any individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was $1 million or more.
• Also includes language to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and ReEmployment Services (RES) programs. In an effort to help get job seekers back into the workforce, individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation will be eligible for enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services when they begin their 27th week of UI (Tier I) and 55th week of UI (Tier III).
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
Source: Washington Post, HuffingtonPost