How GOP made its unemployment benefits plan palatable for conservatives(Read article summary)
House Republicans now have their own extended unemployment benefits plan, but with reforms to satisfy conservatives, including drug testing, job training, and shorter terms of eligibility.
Greg Lindstrom/The Muskegon Chronicle/AP Photo
A new House GOP plan, released Friday, extends long-term jobless benefits, now set to expire on Jan. 4, 2012, for one year, but also requires states administering the benefitsÂ to adopt a list of proposed federal standards to â€śpermanently reformâ€ť the unemployment insurance system.
Unemployment insurance is still a controversial theme for conservatives, who often see an extension of benefits as encouraging the unemployed to stay out of the workforce longer.
But the depth and persistence of the current downturn is driving GOP lawmakers to support the extension of the long-term benefits, albeit while reducing the maximum period of eligibility from the current 99 weeks to 59 in a bid to get workers back to work. The reduction in eligibility would be in two steps beginning in 2013. Most state benefits end after 26 weeks, after which unemployed workers must apply for the federal extended benefits.
This two-step process is a â€ścommon-sense level that is in line with past recessions and economic downturns, extending current benefits,â€ť according to details of the plan released by Speaker John Boehnerâ€™s office.
Itâ€™s also recognition that American taxpayers â€ścannot subsidize benefits for an unprecedented, unending period of time,â€ť the statement adds.
â€śNow, these temporary extensions have become permanent,â€ť says freshmen Rep. James Lankford (R) of Oklahoma, who told GOP leaders he could vote for extending unemployment benefits only if the program was reformed. â€śWe often hear from [employers] back home that theyâ€™ve got manufacturing jobs, but that [unemployed workers] say thatâ€™s pretty close to what I get on unemployment.â€ť
In a nod to such conservatives, the proposed bill strengthens requirements that all recipients search for work as a condition of eligibility. And, while making an exception for older workers, the GOP proposal also requires that those who have not finished high school must be enrolled in a GED program, as an alternative to demonstrating high-school level skills.
Recipients must also participate in training programs to help them get back to work. â€śWe are doing a disservice to people by constantly extending unemployment insurance without requiring training or volunteer service,â€ť Representative Lankford says. â€śWith two years without work and nothing on the resume, itâ€™s very difficult to be hired.â€ť
The measure also gives states new flexibility to experiment with reforms at the local level.
The bill explicitly allows states to test applicants for drug use as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits, â€śin order to improve prospects for future employment.â€ť The move overturns an Obama administration rule that bars such testing.
On the Senate side, some conservatives are also calling for barring millionaires from access to unemployment funds.