The Obama administration waded into the argument over the renewal of a federal extension of unemployment benefits late last week, with a letter dismissing the objections of a trade association that had said a leading proposal would be too difficult to implement.
Last week, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies sent a letter to Senate leaders listing several objections it had to a bipartisan proposal for a five-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits, which expired on December 28 of last year. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who had already said that the Senate proposal does not meet his criteria for bringing it to the floor of the House, released an additional statement saying, “Bottom line: the Senate bill is essentially unworkable.”
Among other things, NASWA said that the proposal would be difficult to implement because it would require reprogramming antiquated computers and verifying that those receiving retroactive benefits had continued to meet job search requirements.
In a letter sent to the Senate on Friday, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez took issue with the group’s complaints.
“I have carefully reviewed the NASWA letter,” Perez wrote. “I am confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by NASWA. From the Great Recession to the present, the Congress has worked in a bipartisan fashion to enact twelve different expansions or extensions to the [Emergency Unemployment Compensation] program. A number of the extensions included changes to the program that were as or more complex than those included in the current bill. The Department of Labor has consistently worked with states to implement these extensions in an effective, collaborative and prompt fashion, and we will do so again.”
Perez noted that one of NASWA’s primary concerns – that states would have to verify that claimants had met work search requirements during the gap in the program – has been dealt with effectively in the past.
“Prior extensions of EUC benefits have included retroactive payments for those who lost benefits during the lapse,” he wrote. “In prior iterations of EUC where there has been a gap in the program, we have successfully overcome this challenge, and the Department already has guidance on how to carry out such a directive. We are confident that we could successfully address this challenge again.
Since the federal program lapsed in December, well over 2 million unemployed workers have seen benefits that would otherwise have continued for as much as six months or more, cut off.
“In the past, when long-term unemployment rates have remained at levels similar to the current level, the Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits,” Perez wrote. “It would be virtually unprecedented for the Congress to fail to extend EUC benefits under the current circumstances.”
The Labor Secretary told lawmakers that state governors and labor secretaries have told him, “people are suffering; time is of the essence and the administrative burden is far less than the burdens confronting the long-term unemployed.”
Asked whether the Labor Secretary’s letter allayed any of Speaker Boehner’s concerns about the Senate proposal, his press secretary Brendan Buck wrote, “They weren’t his concerns; they were the concerns of the people who would have to implement it.” He continued, “[The] Speaker has other concerns, and they remain.”
In a statement last week, Boehner said, “We have always said that we’re willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally-responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid meets that test, and according to these state directors, the bill is also simply unworkable. 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.”
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) has been spearheading the push for the Senate’s five-month plan, and last week he released a statement to Roll Call expressing frustration with Boehner’s stance.
“It is extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits,” he said. “I look forward to passing this proposal out of the Senate next week, and stand ready to help the Speaker, as well as any organization or any individual necessary, in order to make this extension a reality.”
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