By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill to extend unemployment insurance for more than 2 million jobless Americans is poised to clear the Senate next week, but House Speaker John A. Boehner is raising new concerns that it could be costly for states to administer and could lead to fraud.
Boehner’s objections echo warnings from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, which has repeatedly urged Congress not to attach cumbersome new eligibility requirements. States have “antiquated” computer systems that cannot quickly implement new rules, the group warned Wednesday, and may end up giving aid to those who are ineligible.
The potential problems “are cause for serious concern,” Boehner said, urging the Senate to shelve the legislation. “The bill is also simply unworkable.”
Ten senators broke a stalemate to reach the bipartisan accord on the jobless aid package — primarily by attaching Republican-led initiatives, such as prohibiting aid to millionaires. But the state workforce association, which represents state administrators responsible for implementing unemployment insurance, says the bill would be “very hard to administer.”
Under the deal, benefits would be provided to the long-term unemployed, retroactive to Dec. 28, 2013, when jobless aid was shut off. The five-month package would expire June 1, when aid would again be cut.
“Some states have indicated they might decide such changes are not feasible in the short time available,” Mark Henry, president of the association and executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, wrote in a letter to Senate leaders. The group sent a similar warning in January as Congress began debating the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the chamber would “quickly move” to a vote on the compromise when lawmakers return to Washington next week.
With the backing of five Republicans — mainly those from states with high unemployment rates — the measure is expected to have enough votes to overcome a GOP-backed filibuster.
Boehner has not said whether the House would consider the bill.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com