WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate today voted 59-38 to pass bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) to reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance benefits (UI) for five months.

The Reed-Heller bill was cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and is expected to provide assistance to more than 2.79 million eligible Americans, including 12,000 Rhode Islanders.

“Millions of Americans are struggling to find work, and today, the U.S. Senate finally passed a bipartisan bill to provide them some targeted, temporary relief.  Restoring emergency unemployment insurance is the right thing to do and this is a critical moment to get it done.  The bipartisan bill we crafted is a fiscally responsible compromise that will help save and create jobs, assist our neighbors in need, and improve both our short-term and long-term national economic health,” said Reed.

When Congress failed to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program on December 28, 2013, 1.3 million Americans lost access to their emergency unemployment insurance.  Since that time, more than 1 million more American job seekers have exhausted their benefits and lost access to this critical emergency UI safety net.  As of today, over 2.35 million Americans have been cut off, including 227,249 veterans across the country.

The Reed-Heller 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 legislation builds on bipartisan reforms and 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).

Although the latest jobs report shows the U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs in March, the national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 6.7 percent.  And this remains a particularly difficult economy for the long term unemployed.  Indeed, the number of long-term unemployed Americans today is nearly twice as high as it has ever been when Congress cutoff emergency unemployment insurance.

“Today’s strong bipartisan vote in the Senate sends a signal that Congress can work together to help improve our economy.  We need to get our country back to full employment -- to a place where all Americans have an opportunity earn a living and build a better life for their families,” said Reed.  “Congress can help by taking more bipartisan action to upgrade our infrastructure, improve our schools, and ensure local businesses have access to the capital they need to grow and expand and create more jobs.  We’ve got our work cut out for us, but restoring unemployment insurance is a smart step that will also provide more stability and predictability for job seekers and businesses as well.”

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 2.79 million Americans will be eligible for UI benefits under the plan advanced today, which includes over 2 million who would see retroactive benefits; the legislation will allow for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to December 28th.

The bill is estimated to provide nearly $9 billion to help job seekers nationwide, including about $61.3 million to Rhode Islanders, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Reed-Heller agreement also includes language 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).

Now that the bill has passed the full U.S. Senate, it must be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I hope the U.S. House of Representatives takes this up quickly and I will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to get this done,” concluded Reed.