Back to the drawing board on benefits for long-term unemployed

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers holding out thin hope that Congress will re­surrect benefits that expired five months ago for long-term jobless workers are heading back to the drawing board.

An unemployment bill the Senate passed last month is set to expire June 1, with no sign it will be taken up by the House. Meanwhile, the House and Senate are scheduled for a weeklong recess beginning May 23 for the Memorial Day holiday.

Rep. Dean Heller, one of the sponsors of extended jobless benefits, said it will be necessary to rewrite legislation. The Nevada Republican made a plea this month to House Speaker John Boehner to pass a jobless bill, but was rebuffed.

Boehner held firm to a demand that the White House propose job creation amendments for the bill. The Obama administration did not respond.

“We have to decide how we are going to move forward,” Heller said in an inter­view. He planned to talk with the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

“I was honestly hoping that the House would make some movement on their side to reinforce what we did,” Reed told CQ/Roll Call, a news organization that covers Congress.

Heller said one possibility would be to write a new bill to provide payments going forward, while ditching payments retroactive to when the federal employment program expired Dec. 28.

“That’s part of the discussion,” Heller said. “We haven’t come to any conclusion at this point, but that has been part of the discussion.”

Some state officials complained it would be too complicated to calculate retroactive payments, a point that was seized by Boehner and others who argued against renewing the federal benefits for people who exhausted 26 weeks of basic state-funded payments without landing new work.

In the months since the federal program expired, national unemployment has dropped from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent. However, economic recovery has been uneven among states, with the jobless rates for Reed’s and Heller’s states the nation’s highest at 8.7 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively. Nevada’s unemployment rate has improved from 10.2 percent a year ago.

While some lawmakers privately say the effort to renew federal unemployment payments is doomed, nobody has said so publicly. Heller said he continues to push but “it’s getting more difficult, no doubt.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau chief Steve Tetreault at 202-783-1760 or STetreault@stephensmedia.com Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter.