Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill Stalls Yet Again

It appears that hope for easy passage of an amended unemployment insurance benefits extension bill introduced earlier this month has faded. The Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009 (H.R. 3548), which would extend UI benefits in all 50 states, has run into opposition from Senate Republicans who have either introduced or plan to introduce a number of amendments in an alleged attempt to stall the legislative process.

In a press release, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) claims that “Republicans have held up the bill for nearly two weeks by offering amendments that have nothing to do with helping the unemployed.” Some have raised concern about how the bill would be funded. As it stands, the extended benefits would be fully paid for by extending the Federal Unemployment Tax Act surtax until June 30, 2011. This tax imposes an annual fee in the amount of $14 per worker on employers. One or more amendments are expected to replace this tax with funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

A less expansive version of this bill cleared the House of Representatives in September, but came under fire by Senators whose states would not have qualified for additional benefits under that bill. The current bill, which was introduced as a substitute, would provide up to 14 weeks of additional UI benefits for all states, and up to 20 extra weeks in states with unemployment rates averaging 8.5% or higher during a three-month period. The bill also contains provisions updating the Unemployment Insurance Modernization provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to allow victims of sexual assault who have left their job to be eligible for benefits under the “compelling family reasons” clause. In addition, the amended bill specifies that railroad workers facing expiring unemployment benefits would be eligible for additional weeks.

As of Thursday, the Senate failed to agree on which, if any, amendments would be considered as part of the final bill. A cloture vote on whether to consider the measure as-is is scheduled for Tuesday, October 27. At this point, it is unclear whether Senate Democrats will have sufficient votes to overcome a filibuster if they chose to proceed with the measure in its current form. Assuming the bill advances, it would be surprising if any significant action is taken by the end of the month.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.