The Good, the Bad, and the Boring in the Unemployment Insurance Extension Bill
This afternoon, Congress passed a bill to continue federal unemployment insurance (UI), along with the payroll tax cut and the “doc fix,” through the remainder of 2012. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law later today.
In keeping with other major legislation passed by the 112th Congress, there’s plenty not to like about this bill. But it does ensure that millions of jobless workers will not see their benefits cut off in the months ahead, keeps those benefits flowing through our economy, and preserves the basic structure of the UI program. So let’s start with the positives, shall we?
- The provisions designed to offset the cost of the UI extension (“pay-fors”) do not include a proposal to prevent tax filers from claiming the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit without a Social Security Number, a cut that would have been borne primarily by low-income working immigrant families.
- The bill contains several measures allowing states to experiment with limited UI program changes, such as drug testing and wage subsidies. While the final bill includes stronger protections for workers than earlier proposals from House Republicans, it will be important to monitor state programs to ensure that they do not undermine labor standards or the core principles of the UI program.
- A lot – the bill is 270 pages long! It includes provisions like a “repeal of requirement relating to time for remitting certain merchandise processing fees,” which I read so you don’t have to.
And the bottom line: While far from perfect, the bill passed to renew federal UI programs today represents a far better deal for unemployed workers than the alternative proposed by the House in December. With UI benefits in place through 2012, Congress should now call upon the wealthy and corporations to contribute their fair share and advance measures to accelerate job growth and ensure that the women and men who have been hit hardest by the economic downturn are not left behind in the recovery.