House GOP Has Radical Agenda For Unemployment Insurance

I guess you’ve read by now that the House Republican majority (with help from some Democrats) has passed a bill that would extend federal unemployment insurance benefits.

Sort of. Jobless workers couldn’t get them for as long as they can now. Nor could all jobless workers now eligible get them.

The benefits cuts have gotten the most attention. The other so-called reforms deserve more because they’d effectively change the very nature of unemployment insurance.

Perhaps this is all a not-to-worry.

The UI benefits provisions are bundled together with a bunch of other measures, including some that ensure the bill won’t become law — even if the Senate passed it, which it won’t.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pronounced it dead on arrival. “The wrong side of ridiculous,” he said, referring specifically to the UI changes.

This by no means ensures a clean extension. Reid doesn’t have enough Democrats to overcome a potential Republican filibuster threat. Many House Republicans would probably balk.

Yet Congress is in a hurry to wrap up business so members can go home for the holidays.

All but some of the diehard Tea Party types don’t want to face constituents who’ll lose their benefits — or their payroll tax cut, which the House bill would also extend.

So lots of hurried compromising may go on behind closed doors.

Here then are some thoughts on what might seem one of the less divisive UI reform provisions — a novel “participation in reemployment services” qualification.

At this point, states decide who should be eligible for UI benefits, though they’ve got some federal guidelines to follow. Rules relate strictly to immediate past and future legal employment.

The House bill establishes an unprecedented requirement based on the type of work an applicant could qualify for.

Specifically, no one could receive UI benefits unless he/she had a high school diploma or an equivalent like the GED or, if not, was “enrolled and making satisfactory progress in classes leading toward the satisfaction” of the minimum education requirement.

Jeff Carter, the Acting Director and President of the D.C. Learns, attacks this provision from several perspectives.

Briefly, he notes the large number of jobless workers who’d be affected — a goodly, though unknown number of the more than 1.5 million who are actively looking for work without the credential now. More, of course, as time goes on.

He then argues persuasively that the requirement will effectively deny unemployment benefits to a large percent of these workers. There are already long waiting lists for adult education classes, he says.

And like as not, many affected workers don’t have the basic literacy skills to do the work GED preparation classes require. Nor is it clear that those who do should be enrolled in these classes anyway, since there are other ways to get up to speed for the exams.

“Perhaps,” Jeff says, “it [the education provision] was a misguided attempt to provide an incentive to those lacking a high school diploma.”

I wouldn’t altogether rule this out. But we can make other inferences from the predicable results.

Perhaps, for example, the House Republicans hope to cut program costs by erecting new barriers to enrollment.

Whether or no, their bill suggests something more radical than that.

Basically, the education requirement would convert an insurance program to a welfare program — a source of cash assistance contingent on what the drafters seem to view as preparation for work.

Lest we doubt the intent here, the bill also authorizes drug tests for applicants — something state policymakers have already seized on to screen out applicants for public benefits.

And it denies UI benefits to millionaires — or so the Republicans say.

If I understand what the bill says correctly, it actually takes back all or some portion of the benefits paid to high-income taxpayers, including those filing jointly who had no taxable income of their own.

This is not, as it might seem, just a gesture to us 99%. And, as the Political Correction blog notes, it’s not really a cost-saving measure either.

Rather, the “millionaire” exclusion establishes a means test for unemployment compensation — another feature of public assistance programs.

All these welfare-like provisions are, to my mind, an entering wedge for further attacks on the UI program. Because what they say is that we’ve got waste in it — people getting benefits who don’t need or deserve them.

Once you start down that road, you end up … Well, I don’t know where. But with something that’s assuredly not the straightforward insurance program Congress created nearly 80 years ago.

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3 Responses to House GOP Has Radical Agenda For Unemployment Insurance

  1. [...] to call for a House-Senate conference, i.e., negotiations to resolve the differences between their highly problematic bill and what the Senate [...]

  2. [...] it’s not a perfect deal. But a deal got made. And it’s a whole lot better than the extension the House passed in [...]

  3. [...] it’s not a perfect deal. But a deal got made. And it’s a whole lot better than the extension the House passed in [...]

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