Senators announce bipartisan deal on unemployment benefits


WASHINGTON — Key senators struck a bipartisan agreement Thursday to extend unemployment insurance for more than 2 million jobless Americans whose benefits have run out, though approval is not certain in the Republican-controlled House.

Ohio U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D.) and Rob Portman (R.) were among the group of 10 senators who co-sponsored the bipartisan deal to extend unemployment insurance that ended Dec. 28. The deal affects more than 52,000 Ohioans.

"This agreement is the first step toward reforming a broken program into a safety net that helps the unemployed quickly reenter the workforce and get back on their feet,” Mr. Portman said. “I’m especially pleased we were able to find a way to pay for the extension so that we’re not adding to our record debt.”

Mr. Brown said that many Ohio workers paid into unemployment insurance while they were working, but "were left without a critical lifeline when they needed it due to congressional action.

"This deal will ensure that Ohioans who work hard and take responsibility will have the resources they need to take care of their families while looking for a new job," Senator Brown said.

The proposal for a five-month continuation of benefits faces a likely filibuster by tea party conservatives in the Senate, pushing votes until later this month after Congress returns from a weeklong recess.

But with five Republican senators joining Democrats in Thursday’s agreement, passage in the Senate is expected. That would pressure House Speaker John A. Boener, R-Ohio, to take up the measure over the objections of hard-line Republicans who believe unemployment aid discourages work.

“Restoring this much-needed economic lifeline will help job seekers, boost our economy and provide a little certainty,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who brokered the deal with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., two lawmakers whose states have the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

Unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed was cut off Dec. 28, when Congress could not agree on a compromise. Since then, more than 2 million people have lost their aid. Most states offer no more than 26 weeks of assistance.

The nearly $10 billion package would be funded from several sources, including previously approved changes to private pension requirements that increase tax revenues.

The deal also blocks millionaires from receiving unemployment insurance and enhances certain job-placement assessment programs for the long-term unemployed.