Senate Deal Is Reached on Restoring Jobless Aid

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from The New York Times,

The Senate on Thursday reached an agreement to pay for an extension of an unemployment assistance program that expired in December, leaving more than a million Americans who have been out of work for a half-year or longer without support from the federal government.

The deal, a long-anticipated breakthrough after months of fitful negotiations, solves a problem on only one side of the Capitol, however. Getting the $10 billion measure through the Republican-controlled House will be another battle altogether.

Senators who described the deal said it would provide five months’ worth of unemployment assistance, including the two and a half months that have lapsed since the program expired. The cost would be paid for in part by extending certain fees levied by United States Customs and Border Protection as well as by temporarily changing the way private corporations fund their pensions.

“This agreement is the first step toward reforming a broken program into a safety net that helps the unemployed quickly re-enter the work force and get back on their feet,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who helped broker the deal.

The support of Senate Republicans like Mr. Portman, Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will help provide the five votes that Democrats will need to overcome a filibuster by conservatives who have opposed extending the program, which was first passed in 2008, at the height of the recession. The conservatives argue that it is too expensive and does little to address the root cause of long-term unemployment.

Many of the provisions in the agreement were intended to address the skepticism from the right.

Ms. Collins said one provision would require an assessment of why a person unemployed more than six months has been unable to find work.

“That may mean that individuals will be directed to a job-training program or to a different occupation than he or she has traditionally held,” Ms. Collins said. “I see this requirement as the key to getting the person back to work.”

The agreement also calls for an end to unemployment payments to anyone whose adjusted gross income is more than $1 million — payments that, to the surprise of many in Congress, were actually occurring, though in relatively small amounts.

The long-term unemployed would also have expanded access to services like workplace skills assessments and referrals to re-employment services.

By gaining Republican support in the Senate, Democrats hope to increase the pressure on House Republican leaders, highlighting fractures in a party offering differing policy solutions to poverty and income inequality.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a possible presidential candidate in 2016, has warned that the benefits are a narcotic for the unemployed, lulled by handouts away from seeking work. Groups like the political action committee Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation’s political arm, Heritage Action, also warned Republicans against supporting the extension.

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