Senate, House to clash on jobless deal

The Senate is poised next week to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, but the bill could hit a brick wall in the House.

Republicans in the House oppose the Senate bill because it would provide retroactive unemployment benefits to people who have lost the federal aid. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio), pointing to a letter from the National Association of Workforce Agencies (NASWA), called the deal worked out by a bipartisan group of 10 senators “unworkable.”

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BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE’s response led to a backlash from Democrats, who accused House GOP leaders of looking for any way out of passing the bill.

“We believe the concerns that have been expressed are resolvable and we look forward to Speaker Boehner coming to the table to find solutions,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Doctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race MORE (D-Nev.).

“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 and need this lifeline to make ends meet while they continue to look for work,” Jentleson said.

Some Republicans in the Senate also expressed disappointment with Boehner’s comments.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.), the main Republican working on the deal, said it was “extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits.”

“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,” he said.

At issue are federal benefits that kick in after an unemployed person has exhausted their state and local benefits. The federal help expired at the end of December, and approximately 2 million have lost the aid.

Republicans in the House have previously questioned whether the federal aid, first launched by President George W. Bush as a temporary program during the recession, is still needed.  

The letter from the state workers who issue unemployment benefits said the Senate bill would cause considerable delays in implementing the program, and would raise administration costs. But the group did not take a formal position on the Senate deal.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez sent a letter to Senate leaders on Friday saying he is “confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by NASWA” and that “any challenges pale in comparison to those to the need that the long-term unemployed have for these benefits.” 

Advocates for the renewal noted that the group had not expressed any concerns previously about providing retroactive benefits.

“The changes they implemented are really quite minimal in the cosmic scheme of things, and in spite of the letter NASWA sent around, complaining for the first time about retroactivity, those putting together the compromise took NASWA’s previous positions very much to heart,” said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.  

The NASWA letter said that “backdating the EUC claims to Dec. 29, 2013, would make it nearly impossible, in many case, to apply a state’s weekly work search requirement, a key factor to determine eligibility for UI benefits and avoid improper payments to claimants who are ineligible.”

Perez said that the department already has established guidance to deal with reestablishing the program after lapses from dealing with previous expirations. 

Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP, said “this is nothing but a callow excuse to try to justify, yet again, abandoning the nation’s long-term unemployed.”

She said all discussions restoring the program have always contemplated retroactive benefits and the states have the ability to implement the bipartisan measure before the Senate with help from the Labor Department.

“While no one thought this would be an easy or seamless process for the state unemployment insurance agencies, the agencies retroactively restored benefits after a significant lapse in 2010, so we know that they can do it,” she said.

Besides extending federal unemployment benefits for five months, the bill would require more job training for long-term jobless workers to continue receiving insurance benefits. 

It also includes a provision to prevent millionaires and billionaires from receiving the federal benefits.