- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

State unemployment directors said Wednesday that the Senate’s bipartisan bill to extend unemployment insurance is unworkable because the five-month extension would expire before many states even got the new program running.

In a letter to Senate leaders, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies said some states will probably opt out of the federal benefits program entirely rather than go through the administrative burden of restarting the program. Officials said it could take some states one to three months to restart, and the new benefits expire June 1 anyway.

The letter is a blow to Democratic leaders, who had thought they’d broken a logjam last week when they got five Republicans — enough to break a GOP filibuster — to sign onto the latest five-month extension.

“The requirements in [the Senate agreement] would cause considerable delays in the implementation of the program and increased administrative issues and costs,” the state officials said in their letter. “Some states have indicated they might decide such changes are not feasible in the short time available, and therefore would consider not signing the U.S. Department of Labor’s agreement to operate the program.”

Armed with the new letter, House Speaker John A. Boehner announced his opposition to the latest Senate deal, which means the bill would be dead on arrival in the House.

“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,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader [Harry] Reid meets that test.”

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, is expected to put the new deal up for a vote in the Senate next week, and his spokesman said Mr. Boehner’s concerns are solvable if House Republicans will come to the table to negotiate.

The latest Senate deal — the fourth version since the debate began in December — would extend federal benefits for the long-term jobless for five months, retroactive to Dec. 28, which is when the federal program ended. More than 2 million people have seen their federal benefits expire.

Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican and co-author of the Senate plan, said he’ll continue to work to pass the proposal as is, despite objections from the states.

“It is extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits,” Mr. Heller said. “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.”

The nearly $10 billion bill is paid for by extending customs user fees through 2024 and tweaking companies’ pension payments. By allowing companies to pay less into their pension funds, the companies will have more taxable income and, as a result, will generate more tax revenue for the government.

Democrats initially pushed for an 11-month extension, but Republicans balked at the idea of such a long extension without making major reforms and offsetting the entire cost.

The state workforce officials’ letter suggests a longer extension might solve some of the administrative problems — but finding more money to cover the costs of a longer extension would be difficult.

The state officials said old computer systems, questions about how to cover administrative claims costs and difficulty in enforcing a new provision in the bill to stop payments to millionaires would all slow down the process of implementing the changes in the bill.