WASHINGTON -- A breakthrough deal between the White House and party leaders in the U.S. Senate would preserve federal unemployment insurance programs through February. The agreement would prevent more than 1 million jobless from missing out on federal unemployment compensation in the first two months of 2012, but people in some states would nevertheless lose benefits during that time.
The deal would reauthorize two federal programs that provide benefits for people who use up the standard 26 weeks of benefits provided by most states. The first program, called Emergency Unemployment Compensation, lasts for 53 weeks. Then the Extended Benefits program adds in up to 20 additional weeks, but only in states where the unemployment rate has risen significantly over the past three years.
Even though the jobs situation is almost as dire as ever, it hasn't worsened much from three years ago, so Extended Benefits, even if it is reauthorized, would begin to phase out unless Congress changes the way the program is triggered. In November, Democrats in both chambers of Congress introduced bills that would have allowed states to change their "look back" periods to encompass four years instead of three. But as Republicans have pointed out, the White House supports letting the program shrivel up next year.
Due to the timing of increased joblessness, in January and February the program could expire in Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon according to an analysis by worker advocacy group the National Employment Law Project. The analysis cautions that due to the uncertainty of when unemployment rates will decline, Maine and Oregon could keep Extended Benefits until April.
"This is a result of the complete unwillingness of Republicans to ask the very wealthy to sacrifice some of their tax breaks to help get our economy back on a more stable footing," Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), top Democrat on the committee that oversees unemployment insurance in the House of Representatives, said in a Saturday statement. "At every turn, whether it is jobs legislation or deficit reduction, the consistent priority of the Republican majority is protecting the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
The House still has to approve the bill that cleared the Senate on Saturday. Levin did not say in his statement whether he would oppose the measure, and his spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Huffington Post.
Initially, the "look back" period for Extended Benefits was just two years. Faced with the same situation last December, Congress stretched it to three years so people would not lose benefits.
The unemployment extensions are part of a broader package of legislation that would also preserve a payroll tax cut, prevent reduced reimbursement for doctors who see Medicare patients, and force the White House to act on a controversial oil pipeline.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story contained a different list of states where the Extended Benefits program would expire. That reporting was based on outdated information in a National Employment Law Project report. Click HERE for the latest.