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Senators reach deal that would extend unemployment benefits for 5 months

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Mar 13, 2014 at 10:53 PM

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and a group of eight other senators have reached a bipartisan deal that would help more than two million job seeking Americans who have lost emergency unemployment insurance (UI) coverage since December 28, 2013, including more than 52,000 Ohioans.

Led by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nevada), the agreement would reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for five months. In addition to Brown and Portman, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The plan would allow for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to Dec. 28.

“Today, we reached a bipartisan deal to extend unemployment insurance for thousands of Ohio workers,” Brown said. “Too many of these Ohioans paid into unemployment insurance while they were working, but were left without a critical lifeline when they needed it due to congressional action. This deal will ensure that Ohioans who work hard and take responsibility will have the resources they need to take care of their families while looking for a new job.”

This new legislation would boost the U.S. economy while providing job seekers and their families a vital lifeline as they continue to look for work. 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).

“This agreement is the first step toward reforming a broken program into a safety net that helps the unemployed quickly reenter the workforce and get back on their feet,” Portman said. “I’m especially pleased we were able to find a way to pay for the extension so that we’re not adding to our record debt. The president called for a ‘year of action’ and I hope that in the months to come, as we look for a long-term solution, he joins us in proposing significant reforms to this program.”

Further, the legislation includes a provision modeled on Sens. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) and Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) language that ends unemployment insurance payments to any individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was $1 million or more.  According to 2010 income tax data, there were 0.03% of filers that earned more than $1 million and received some form of UI at either the state or federal level. This provision received unanimous support in the Senate when it was voted on in 2011.

The legislative proposal also includes language championed by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) 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 must pass with 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Earlier this year, Brown released county-by-county data on the number of Ohioans who lost their unemployment insurance after 2013. For Huron County, that number was 306. In total, more than 52,000 Ohioans were immediately stripped of their Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits as a result of an extension not passing or their 63 weeks of eligibility for the program expiring. By the end of 2014, another 76,000 Ohioans could lose their emergency unemployment insurance if a long-term extension is not passed.

The EUC program was authorized by Congress in 2008 and has supported nearly 69 million Americans, including almost 17 million children. In 2012, unemployment benefits helped keep about 2.5 million Americans further away from poverty, which included 600,000 children. Just in Ohio:

·         More than 790,000 Ohioans have received EUC benefits between 2008 and 2013;

·         If unemployment insurance is not extended, more than 128,000 Ohioans would lose their benefits, including 52,000 who have already lost benefits;

·         Since 2008, more than 6,500 Ohio jobs have been saved due to EUC benefits;

·         The average weekly unemployment benefits in Ohio is $318; and

·         The maximum weekly unemployment benefits in Ohio is $413.

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