On the same day that Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen declared the rate of long-term joblessness “immensely high” and said it is a “very stubborn” problem, the effort to restore unemployment insurance benefits to millions of jobless workers suffered another setback. On Wednesday, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), citing a letter from a relatively obscure Washington-based trade association, declared a bipartisan deal reached in the Senate “unworkable.”
Boehner’s comments were based on an analysis of the proposal by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, which represents state-level administrators of unemployment insurance, job training, and other employment-related programs. NASWA took no position on whether or not a federal extension of state unemployment benefits, which expired December 28, ought to be renewed, saying that its member organizations are split on the matter.
However, it noted a number of difficulties that state agencies say they are likely to have if they try implementing the proposal, including re-programming “antiquated” computer systems, verifying that recipients have met the requirements for eligibility if payments are made retroactive, and other administrative problems.
The statement from Boehner’s office said that the concerns raised by the state agencies, “increase the likelihood of fraud and abuse” and make it clear that “many states may opt to forego the opportunity to re-start the program because it could take three months to get it up and running – by which time the extension and thus the program would have again expired. Bottom line: the Senate bill is essentially unworkable.”
The statement further quoted the Speaker himself saying, “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 Leader 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.”
The Senate deal would extend benefit for five months, retroactive to December 28. It had Democratic and Republican support in the Senate, and a vote on it had been expected before the end of the month. It was paid for through a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts.
Boehner, until now, had refused to take a firm position on the Senate bill. Last week, an aide said that the speaker would wait to see what the Senate could pass.
In a statement, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to personalize Boehner’s decision, saying, “It is hard to imagine Speaker Boehner simply walking away from the thousands of people in Ohio who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”
Boehner’s dismissal of the plan came on the same day as Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s first press conference.
Asked about the problem of joblessness, she said, “I would be surprised if anyone in this room doesn’t know someone who has been touched by unemployment, by difficulties getting jobs, and that is true of me and my family and friends.”
She also noted, “The share of long-term unemployment has been immensely high and can be very stubborn in bringing down. That’s something I watch closely. Again, that remains exceptionally high, but it has come down from something like 45 percent to the high 30s, but that’s certainly in my dashboard.”
The federal extension that lawmakers have been trying to renew is a supplement to state programs, most of which expire after 26 weeks. Throughout the years following the financial crisis, federal extensions were the norm, sometimes extending the program to as long as 99 weeks. Since the program expired, more than 2 million individual workers have lost out on benefits that people in similar situations had received only a few months before.
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