Fresh criticism of a Senate bill to extend a lapsed unemployment insurance program has all but killed the chances that it will become law just a week after a compromise deal on the issue raised its prospects for the first time in months.
Before the Senate left town last week, 10 senators reached a compromise to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for five months, in addition to retroactively paying benefits that expired on Dec. 28. The bill was fully paid for and would introduce reforms to the program including ending payments to wealthy individuals and giving more individualized aid to the long-term unemployed.
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the bill has no chance in his chamber in the wake of a letter he received from National Association of State Work Force Agencies, which says the requirements of the Senate bill would, "cause considerable delays in the implementation of the program and increased administrative issues and costs."
As a result, the letter says, some states have indicated the changes to the program are not feasible so they will not work with the Labor Department to implement the program.
The association says implementation could take one to three months, and cite chief obstacles such as aging computer systems, how states should pay for the administrative burden of determining eligibility for the program, implementing the means testing necessary to weed out wealthier recipients of aid, and quickly clearing a backlog of claims to late December, when the program expired.
In a statement on his website, Boehner said the letter was cause for serious concern.
"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. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by [Majority] Leader [Harry] Reid meets that test, and according to these state directors, the bill is also simply unworkable," he said.
Instead, Boehner urged the Senate to take up House-passed jobs bills.
Though support for the bill from House Republicans was far from guaranteed, Boehner's opposition is the latest blow in the uphill battle the EUC program has faced. Efforts to renew the benefits have failed several times in the Senate as the program has fallen victim to both policy and procedural debates.
Two million people have already stopped receiving their checks, and 1.6 million more stand to lose them by the end of 2014 if the program was not renewed.
But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that senators would work to resolve those concerns rather than letting the legislation die in the House.
"The Senate has forged a bipartisan compromise to reform and extend unemployment benefits. 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. "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."
House Democrats are filing a "discharge petition," which would force the Republican leadership to put their version of an unemployment benefits extension up for a vote if a majority of House members sign on. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday there were more than 100 House Democrats who were immediately signing the petition, but it's unlikely to get enough Republican support to make it to the floor.