3/27/2014 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate today voted 65-34 to advance a bipartisan agreement authored by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) to reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for 5 months.  The Reed-Heller compromise was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and is expected to provide assistance for more than 2.79 million eligible Americans, including 12,000 Rhode Islanders.

Today’s vote comes 89 days after UI benefits were cutoff on December 28, 2013 when Congress failed to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and 1.3 million Americans lost access to their unemployment insurance.  Since that time, nearly 1 million more American job seekers have exhausted their benefits and had this critical emergency UI safety net cut.  As of today, 2.24 million Americans have been cut off.

“We need to do everything we can to improve our economy and put more Americans back to work.  Today’s bipartisan vote was a step in the right direction, but it is unconscionable that millions of Americans have had to wait this long for Congress to act and there is no reason this bipartisan solution should be further delayed.  The votes are there for final passage in the Senate.  People are hurting and need this emergency assistance,” said Reed. “We are finally on our way to getting this much needed assistance into the hands of jobseekers, but there needs to be a real sense of urgency.  I thank Senator Heller and our bipartisan co-sponsors for their thoughtful and persistent leadership on this issue and hope we can get final passage without further delay.”  

The bill seeks to strengthen the U.S. economy while providing vulnerable job seekers and their families with a critical support 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). The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 2.79 million Americans will be eligible for UI benefits under the plan advanced today, which includes the 2.24 million who would see retroactive benefits and some 550,000 more who would benefit prospectively; the legislation will allow for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to December 28th.

The Reed-Heller agreement 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).

Further, the legislation includes a provision modeled on Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) and Jon Tester’s (D-MT) language that ends emergency 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 over $1 million and received some form of UI at either the state or federal level.

“The agreement advanced by the Senate today is a true compromise, and it will help create jobs and strengthen our economic recovery so every American has a fair shot,” added Reed. “A vast majority of Americans want to see this help for their neighbors and communities get done.  Millions of Americans are awaiting action and have the right to expect their representatives in Congress would not stand in the way of this emergency assistance.”

Reed noted that failing to reauthorize emergency UI assistance puts a dent in job seekers’ incomes and consumer demand, and could cost our economy up to 240,000 jobs in 2014.

Reed and Heller have expressed confidence that the measure will receive final passage in the U.S. Senate and are urging U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote on the bipartisan compromise without delay.