POLITICS
12/18/2013 12:57 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2013

Senators Launch Last-Minute Bid To Save Jobless Aid ... Later

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on Wednesday announced a bill to preserve long-term unemployment insurance for another three months, but the bipartisan duo is too late.

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a broader budget deal that excludes these benefits, but there are no plans to vote on unemployment before the new year.

Even if the Senate did act before leaving for vacation this week, benefits will expire for 1.3 million workers on Dec. 28 because the House of Representatives has already gone home for Christmas. Unemployed people have already received notice that their benefits are over.

If the Senate and House were to approve the legislation in January, however, people who missed checks during the lapse would receive lump-sum payments.

"Providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government," Heller said in a statement. "As Nevada’s unemployment rate continues to top the charts nationwide, many families and individuals back home do not know how they are going to meet their basic needs."

During recessions, Congress makes laid off workers eligible for federal compensation if they run out of state benefits without finding jobs. State benefits usually last 26 weeks, though some states offer fewer. In 2009, Congress stretched the duration of federal assistance in the hardest-hit states to 73 weeks, but lawmakers have since lowered the max to 47 weeks. Benefits average about $300 per week.

Democrats previously pushed legislation that would preserve these benefits through next year at a cost of $26 billion. Reed said his three-month measure would serve as a placeholder while lawmakers negotiate a full-year reauthorization. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett endorsed the proposal during a Politico event on Wednesday morning.

"I hope this sensible and bipartisan approach will provide a path forward to preserving the program through the entire 2014 calendar year, which will give families and our economy time to recover," Reed said. "Because, frankly, this is a program designed to be there for every worker should the unfortunate happen and they find themselves without a job through no fault of their own."

Heller's support is notable because Republicans have generally been cool to the idea of keeping extended unemployment insurance, though the GOP is warmer when the benefits' cost is offset with cuts to other areas of federal spending. The Reed-Heller bill does not have offsets.

CONVERSATIONS