Category Archives: Unemployment Insurance

Women Veterans Are Still Fighting For Economic Security

We celebrate Veteran’s Day by honoring the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made.  Yet it is equally important to honor their service by ensuring that they have routes to economic security when they return from their service.  However, this latter celebration is still not a reality for all veterans.

Recently released US Bureau of Labor Statistics data highlights some significant challenges that women veterans face upon their return.  While the good news is that the overall unemployment rate fell for male and female veterans over the past year, the bad news is that the unemployment rate for Gulf-War era II veterans remained strikingly high. And even more troubling is that within that group the unemployment rate for women is almost double that of male veterans (6.2 percent for men and 11.2 percent for women).

Source: US BLS, 2014

Source: US BLS, 2014

This data is quite alarming.  Younger female veterans are returning from their service only to find themselves without jobs and far from economic security.  This is unacceptable. We need to invest in employment and training programs, along with supportive services, that provide routes for female veterans to transition to career pathways.  One such route is access to nontraditional occupations (NTO)—such as those in the sciences, building trades, and technology. Women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, and these are industries that offer economic opportunities. Women veterans are particularly poised to succeed in these training programs and jobs.  Many of the technical expertises they mastered while in military service could transfer to work in NTO.  In addition, women veterans have also gained important skills navigating a traditionally male workplace, and prepare them for NTO.

So yes, we should celebrate our veterans’ accomplishments today, but tomorrow we need to fight for their economic security on the home front. The new unemployment data—with its clear gender disparities—must be a call to action for all of us to work to ensure that on Veterans Day in 2015 we will have lowered veteran’s unemployment rates and closed the significant gender unemployment rate gap.  The best celebration will be that of true economic security for the women who have sacrificed so much.


Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs

Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs


On the Hill: WIOA, Appropriations, and UI

Congress returned this week to Washington for its final work period before the August recess. While still deadlocked on resolving differences on major appropriations bills, Congress did act to actually reform and reauthorize the nation’s job training programs.

Following passage last month of the bipartisan Senate version of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, on Wednesday the House passed the compromise bill on a 416-6 vote. It will next head to President Obama, who has expressed his support and is expected to sign it into law. The compromise legislation, crafted by leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, repeals the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and replaces it with new authority that maintains most of WIA’s original programs. The measure authorizes funding through fiscal year 2020 for workforce development systems at the state and local level, and also maintains and modifies Job Corps, national programs, and adult education and literacy initiatives. It repeals 15 separate programs and requires states to submit plans for workforce systems that address all of the core programs under the measure. The language also standardizes performance indicators for all programs, and requires states to develop comprehensive strategies to align workforce activities with labor market demands, business needs and economic development goals. The bill continues the basic structure of state workforce development systems, with state and local boards developing workforce development plans that govern education, job training and other programs through one-stop delivery systems. However, it modifies the roles of the boards and requires that the plans be more comprehensive and tailored to the region’s employment and workforce needs so that the programs can provide training, employment services, adult education and vocational rehabilitation through a coordinated, comprehensive system.

In spite of the its showing strong bipartisan, bicameral support for the job training measure, Congress remains starkly divided on the 12 major spending bills that must be passed to fund major federal programs for fiscal year 2015. While the House continues to pass various spending bills (although its Energy-Water bill drew a veto threat from the Obama administration this week), the appropriations process in the Senate is essentially at a standstill as a result of contentious policy riders being attached to various spending bills. Because of the increasingly slim odds of lawmakers managing to reconcile spending bills passed by each chamber, it appears Congress will need to pass an emergency spending package to cover immediate threats like wildfires and border security.

Given this reality, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has urged that his proposal to extend unemployment insurance benefits be attached to such a measure. Unfortunately, Sen. Reed’s proposed mechanism to pay for the extension is now being considered as a way to ensure continued funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which covers many of the nation’s major infrastructure projects and is expected to run dry this summer. Reed’s proposal to extend jobless aid for five months would cost a little under $10 billion and would be fully offset — a key to Republican support — using a combination of revenue raisers that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions and extending customs user fees through 2024. House leadership has expressed no appetite for taking up the jobless aid renewal without attaching major Republican priorities.  The odds of action on unemployment insurance seem even smaller now that House Ways & Means Chairman David Camp has announced plans to use pension smoothing, which temporarily reduces the amount that companies are required to pay into their pension funds, as a way to continue funding transportation projects for 10 months.

Beyond unemployment insurance benefits, other items on Senate Democrat’s “Fair Shot” economic agenda continue to flounder without bipartisan support in the chamber. Launched with fanfare as a coordinated plan to align senators behind party priorities aimed at addressing inequality in the economy, an agenda that included the minimum wage, pay equity and student loan refinancing has been stalled by shortfalls on votes and procedural impasses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has little time before August recess to bring up any of these or additional priorities for what will likely be a doomed cloture vote on the Senate floor. Unless a clear path to bipartisan support can be forged—something that seems increasingly unlikely given the breakdown in the chambers’ appropriations process—many of these items appear to be on hold for the foreseeable future, or at least until after the August recess.

Both the House and the Senate will be in session next week.


On the Hill: WIOA and UI Extension

Both the House and Senate were in session this week for a final few days of work ahead of the Fourth of July recess.

The Senate voted for passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act on an overwhelmingly bipartisan 95-3 vote. The legislation, crafted by Senators Harkin (D-IA), Alexander (R-TN), Murray (D-WA), and Isakson (R-GA) and Representatives Kline (R-MN), Miller (D-CA), Foxx (R-VA), and Hinojosa (D-TX), will now move to the House. The bill represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with a bipartisan vote of 18-3 in July, 2013. The House could consider the bill as early as when it returns from the Fourth of July recess. The National Coalition on Women, Jobs and Job Training (NCWJJT) offered this statement in response to WIOA’s introduction.

While the passage of the WIA reauthorization with clear bicameral, bipartisan support this week was an encouraging sign, the odds for a new measure to reinstate unemployment insurance for jobless Americans remain less sure. Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) continue to push for a bipartisan deal to extend the jobless aid, after their first attempt at a five month extension that passed the Senate in April languished in the Republican controlled House. The duo introduced their new proposal on Tuesday. It includes five months of extended benefits past 26 weeks, paid for by changes to pension laws and an extension of Customs fees through 2024.  A key difference with this most recent proposal is that the jobless benefits will not be retroactive for unemployed Americans who stopped receiving aid after the program expired last December. By avoiding retroactive benefits, the latest legislation may mute some of the critiques that the previous iteration was hard to implement. Its lack of a firm expiration date will also increase the bill’s shelf life if it takes a few months to pass. Timing could be tight with a busy workload of appropriations bills on the Senate’s schedule for July, perhaps the last full month of real legislating before the midterm election season goes into full swing. Even if the Senate does pass another unemployment insurance bill, the biggest challenge will be convincing the House to consider it, which it would certainly would not without including Republican-supported legislation like approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax or other changes to the health care overhaul.

The White House, Department of Labor, and allies this week hosted the Summit for Working Families, with the goal of raising the national dialog on the importance of policies that best support working parents. The event featured speakers from the advocacy, business, and policy worlds, and included remarks from President and First Lady. While touting passage of the Affordable Care Act, as well as executive actions to raise the minimum wage for all federal contracted workers, President Obama called on Congress to implement policies for working parents including paid sick and family leave, affordable childcare, raising the federal minimum wage for all Americans, and strengthening pay equity protections for women. The US lags markedly behind many other developed nations in ensuring access to these basic needs. In conjunction with the event, President Obama also released a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to offer flexibility to workers, implementing a “right to request” provision which allows workers to ask for flexible working situations without fear of retaliation. Among the many other actions and commitments announced by the White House, WOW and its partner Jobs for the Future committed to expanded a curriculum designed to help job training programs, community colleges, unions, industry partners and others to improve women’s access to nontraditional, high-wage careers. Read more here.

Both the House and the Senate will be in recess next week for the July 4th Holiday. The Senate will return on Monday, July 7th and the House will return Tuesday, July 8th.


On the Hill: WIA Reauthorization

After years of failed attempts, key lawmakers in the House and Senate announced this week a bipartisan deal to pass a reformed Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which governs more than $3 billion in federal job-training programs. Both the House and Senate are expected to consider the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act when they return from recess in June. The deal announced Wednesday reforms WIA’s nearly 50 programs overseen by nine federal agencies by eliminating 15 programs, increasing the ability of local boards to use on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, and customized training. While the deal’s language generally sticks to the intent of the original law passed in 1998, it does eliminate some regulations and makes it easier for students at community colleges to enter directly into training programs. The bipartisan proposal also directs the Department of Labor to study gender imbalances and pay inequity in more technical job fields, and improve data collection for standardized reporting on common employment metrics such as median earnings, credentials earned, measurable skill gains and employer engagement. Finally, the new legislation would set authorized funding levels for each of the next five years, a shift from how the current WIA law works. This change could help preserve funding for the job-training program in future budget battles.

Key Senate lawmakers continued efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement for Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits which expired last December. Senate Democrats have been exploring the possibility of whether a full-year extension of the benefits, in combination with a number of measures aimed at spurring economic growth, could secure passage in Congress. Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray of Washington said she and other party leaders would continue to press for action on a long-term extension of jobless aid but that they had decided not to attach the five-month extension to the just announced bipartisan workforce investment law. Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he believed job training legislation could help build momentum for expanded jobless aid by making clear that unemployed workers will receive better training in the future.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved on a 16-14 party line vote, the top-line spending levels presented by Chair Mikulski (D-MD), known as 302(b) allocations, for the 12 annual appropriations bills.  The 302(b) allocations adhere to the overall $1.014 trillion discretionary top line codified as part of the December budget deal, as well as separate defense and nondefense spending caps of $521.3 billion and $492.4 billion.  The Senate allocations differ most sharply from the figures House appropriators approved earlier this month for the Defense and Transportation-HUD spending titles, with the Senate panel setting aside $1.4 billion less and $2.4 billion more for the respective measures.  Senate appropriators also set aside $1.1 billion more for the Labor-HHS-Education account than their House counterparts, matching the currently enacted spending levels at $156.8 billion.

Finally, appropriators in both the House and Senate also took up Agriculture spending this week, with nutrition policy at the fore of the debate. On Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its agriculture spending bill, totaling $20.58 billion in discretionary funding. The bill provides $6.623 billion for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a level consistent with full anticipated program participation.

The House will be in session starting Wednesday of next week following the Memorial Day holiday. The Senate will be in recess all of next week, returning Monday, June 2nd.


On the Hill: UI Extension and HELP Hearings

With the House in recess this week, the Senate was the main arena for legislative action. The House’s absence prevented any progress from being made on efforts to forge a bipartisan deal on extending unemployment insurance benefits.  Indeed, the unemployment extension may be headed “back to the drawing board,” since the possible Senate vehicle – the tax extender package dead for now – and there is no sign of movement in the House. This week the measure’s lead Democratic cosponsor, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), said he and his Republican counterpart Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) will continue their efforts if the House doesn’t act before the end of the month, which would be the deadline for passing their retroactive, five-month extension. Labor Secretary Tom Perez has also joined the call to extend the jobless aid, sending a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) highlighting the fact that not extending the benefits has cost 80,000 jobs so far and will cost an estimated 240,000 jobs by the end of the year. In the letter, Secretary Perez offered to negotiate additional job creation measures with the Speaker, though that outreach is likely to go unanswered.

On Wednesday, the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions considered a draft bill, The Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would create two new federal support mechanisms for early education. The bill’s two mechanisms are a formula grant program to help states expand existing full-day, high-quality preschool programs for children from low-income families, and a competitive grant program to help states that don’t have those programs to launch them. It would also set standards for teacher training and pay, class size and the availability of health care and child care services. Under the measure, states would have to contribute an increasing amount of matching funds every year. In contrast to this proposal, HELP Committee’s Ranking member, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), offered as a substitute amendment his plan to take all existing federal spending on early learning and child care programs and give it to states in block grants to spend as they wish. The federal government spends about $8 billion annually on Head Start and $5 billion on grants to help low-income families with day care costs, plus smaller amounts for other programs. Republicans, who cite a 2012 Government Accountability Office report that found 45 programs in some way support those efforts, say states are in the best position to decide how to use that money to care for and educate young children. For their part, Democrats note that the GAO report included programs that should not be counted in a broad measure of federal spending on preschool, including early learning programs that target specific populations, such as children with disabilities or Native American children, and non-education programs, such as school lunches and snacks. Alexander’s proposal failed on a party line vote. Ultimately, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act passed out of committee along a 12-10 party line vote and will next head for consideration on the Senate floor.

The Senate HELP committee will hold a hearing next Tuesday, May 20 entitled “Economic Security for Working Women.” Both the House and Senate will be in session next week, before adjourning the following week for Memorial Day recess.


On the Hill: Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations, Hearing for New HHS Head, and Pushing for UI Renewal

Congress was in session this week. Appropriations work dominated the House while the Senate held the first of two confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, to replace Kathleen Sibelius as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

With the House Appropriations Committee steadily working its way through the various 2015 appropriations bills, spending allocations by House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rodgers (R-KY) were revealed this week for the proposed Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations package. Rodger’s proposal would cut about $1 billion from the level of funding for non-defense spending that was enacted under the fiscal 2014 omnibus. It is being suggested that the relatively small cut to what is always a highly contentious Labor-HHS-Education spending package shows that the House chairman hopes to pass spending bills that have a chance of being reconciled with the Democratic-led Senate. That marks a dramatic shift in tone from the rival allocations House and Senate appropriators set for the Labor-HHS title last year, which were more than $42 billion apart. Although committee members will vote on top-line spending levels for the annual spending bills, it is still unclear which specific programs under those titles are likely to see increases or face cuts. Labor-HHS-Education is sure to attract amendments from House Republicans looking to undermine the 2010 health care law and the Department of Labor. Democrats will likely argue the allocation for the bill remains too low.

President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Kathleen Sibelius at the helm of HHS, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, drew bipartisan praise at her first Senate confirmation hearing Thursday morning, with key Republicans reserving their criticism for the health care law rather than the nominee. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee said Ms. Burwell was “eminently qualified” to lead the sprawling agency. The Department of Health and Human Services provides insurance to more than 100 million people through Medicare and Medicaid, regulates food and drug products that account for roughly one-fourth of consumer spending, and sponsors biomedical research that has saved or extended millions of lives. The Senate Finance committee will also hold a separate hearing on Ms. Burwell’s nomination, the timing of which has yet to be announced. Ms. Burwell currently serves as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, an Executive branch post she was confirmed for with a 96-0 vote in the Senate in April 2013. The path to confirmation this time around is not so clear, with Republicans hoping to gain control of the Senate in the midterm November elections seeing Ms. Burwell’s confirmation hearings as a forum to investigate and criticize the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, the ongoing battle over extending unemployment-insurance benefits continued this week, with House Democrats attempting to ratchet up pressure on House Republican leadership to take up a compromise five month extension packaged passed by the Senate in mid-April. The legislation remains in limbo, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) apparently waiting for the White House to make a new offer that includes various Republican priorities before he will act. The President has not made such an offer, standing firm behind the Senate-passed measure. But time is running out, as Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), will have to draft a new bill in June if no action is taken on their Senate bill.  For his part, Sen. Heller said he may try to attach the unemployment extension to an $85 billion package of corporate tax breaks planned to be brought to the floor next week. The extenders bill is considered a must-pass measure. The legislation resurrecting more than 60 expired corporate tax breaks has bipartisan support and could represent one of the best chances for the unemployment bill to make it to the President’s desk.

The House will be in recess next week, returning on Monday, May 19th. The Senate will be in session next week.


On the Hill: Senate Passes UI Extension and Obstructs Paycheck Fairness

After months of back and forth, this week the Senate finally finished its work on unemployment aid, passing a five month extension of emergency unemployment benefits on Monday. Six Republicans joined the full Democratic conference to support the deal, which allows for retroactive benefits from late December when benefits first expired, and continues through May 31. Leadership in the House remains unenthusiastic about bill, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) citing repeated concerns about the workability of the measure and calling for an agreement on Republican priorities such as a proposal to streamline job training programs.  Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), the chief GOP co-sponsor of the jobless aid measure, has been taking the lead in trying to work out deal to clear the way for House floor action on the Senate bill. Heller said he was trying to set up meetings with Speaker Boehner and other senior Republicans. The House did not take up the measure before adjourning for the two week Easter recess on Thursday, but conversations will likely continue behind the scenes to determine if a package that would be acceptable for the House leadership to take up can be crafted. Senate Democrats remain steadfast in their support for a clean extension of the aid.

Meanwhile, the House spent much of its attention this week on consideration of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2015 budget. The House voted 219-205 in favor of the blueprint on Thursday, which would balance the budget in a decade by cutting spending by roughly $5 trillion. Before that vote, the House rejected 163-261 an alternative offered by the Budget panel’s top Democrat, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, which relies largely on tax increases to achieve more modest deficit reduction. Democrats oppose the Ryan budget because of its cuts to domestic spending, its repeal of the health care overhaul and its tax cuts that they say would benefit the wealthy. Indeed, the Ryan plan makes drastic cuts to federal spending over the coming decade while overhauling numerous federal programs including Medicaid, Social Security, and several welfare programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Ryan’s proposal lacks the force of law and is sure to be ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate, where Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) is not writing a budget.

Finally, despite a heavy push from top Democrats, this week the Senate failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to address the national gender wage gap. Current estimates maintain that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn based on a comparison of the annual earnings of women working full-time jobs over the course of a year and the earnings of men working the same amount of time. The Senate measure fell six votes short of the 60 necessary to clear a procedural hurdle on Wednesday. Had it passed, the bill would have made it illegal for employers to retaliate against a worker who inquires about or discloses his or her wages or the wages of another employee in a complaint or investigation. It also would make employers liable to civil actions. Lastly, the bill would have required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect pay information from employers. In keeping with the spirit of the Paycheck Fairness Act, President Obama signed two Executive Orders on pay equity this week. The first would prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another. The other is a presidential memorandum ordering new rules for contractors to file data with the federal government showing how they compensate employees, including by sex and race.
Both the House and Senate will be in recess for the coming two weeks. They will return to Washington and be in session on April 28th.


On the Hill: The House Budget

Congress was in session this week with much fanfare surrounding the release and committee consideration of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal 2015 budget blueprint. The plan is largely symbolic, as Congress already set spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 in the January budget agreement. Ryan’s blueprint has no chance of being taken up by the Senate but largely reflects the Republican party’s platform for how they would govern should they take back control of the Senate after this year’s election  and the White House in 2016. The plan makes drastic cuts to federal spending over the coming decade, and overhauls key federal programs.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in a forthcoming report estimates that some 69 percent of the cuts would come from programs that serve people of limited means.  These disproportionate cuts — which likely account for at least $3.3 trillion of the budget’s $4.8 trillion in non-defense cuts over the next decade — contrast sharply with the budget’s rhetoric about helping the poor and promoting opportunity.  Of its many proposals, the plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and change Medicaid into a block grant program. It also calls for dramatic changes to several welfare programs, including a proposed $125 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. It also recommends turning SNAP into a state-run block grant program, and calls for an expansion of SNAP work and job training requirements to receive aid from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program. Democrats have raised strong objections to many proposals in Ryan’s plan, which tracks closely to many of his previous budget blueprints.  The budget was approved on a 22-16 voted by the Budget Committee on April 2nd,  after debating for nearly 10 hours Wednesday. Republicans defeated 24 Democratic amendments aimed at restoring funding for domestic programs and endorsing immigration, minimum wage and unemployment insurance proposals.  The bill will be on the House floor next week.

The Senate made progress this week on a bipartisan five-month extension of jobless aid, voting 61-35 to invoke cloture and move forward on the measure Thursday and clearing the path for passage on Monday. It remains unclear whether the House of Representatives will take up the bill, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and many in his caucus continuing to portray the extension as unworkable after a three-month break in such benefits. While that is the dominant view among the House GOP conference, seven Republicans did send a letter to Speaker Boehner this week urging him to bring something to the floor. For some Republicans, the Senate measure presents an enticing vehicle for several stalled proposals to cut taxes, curb regulations and undo mandates under the health care overhaul. If House leadership decides to attach such provisions, they will have to weigh how far they can go in pushing Democrats to accept the package before they invite criticism that they are obstructing the bill. Democrats made clear Thursday they would press for quick House floor action on the Senate package, without changes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)said he had no plans to open talks with House Republicans to tweak the package.

Backers of an increase in the minimum wage continued to step up the pressure this week, appealing to business leaders to offer their employees a pay boost even if Congress fails to enact legislation to do so. The timing for Senate consideration of a proposal by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 also appears to be in flux, with action now likely in late April or May. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada signaled his desire to take up Harkin’s proposal, but was weighing whether to delay a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the Harkin bill until after the two-week April recess. A delay in floor action on Harkin’s bill would give more time for negotiations on potential compromise plans, which are being discussed behind the scenes among other lawmakers.

Both the House and Senate will be in session next week.


On the Hill: Prospects for EUC Renewal

Despite last week’s announcement of a bipartisan Senate proposal to extend unemployment benefits, Congress continues to grapple with the issue of extending jobless aid. The Senate compromise announced last week would extend unemployment benefits for five months that would be paid for by so-called “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill and by extending customs user fees through 2024. The compromise also would make unemployment compensation retroactive for workers who lost benefits on Dec. 28, 2013 when the jobless aid expired. Opponents of the proposal are taking issue with that provision, alleging it makes implementation unworkable, an assertion supporters strongly dispute. House Speaker John Boehner cited a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies which warned that the retroactive legislation would be hard to implement, particularly while complying with new requirements, including means-testing so that million-dollar earners do not get checks, in the bill. Most states have warned it would take one to three months to implement the legislation, the association said. Proponents of extending jobless benefits defended the bipartisan proposal, including Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), who pointed to the fact that Congress has passed retroactive benefits several times before without issue, and argue claims otherwise are just another excuse to deny the extension. The Senate is expected vote on the bill as soon as next week.

Republicans in Congress are unhappy with governors of six states—New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Oregon–who have taken measures to protect more than a combined $800 million in annual Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for program participants in their states. Their move was a result of the recently passed farm bill which included $8 billion in cuts to the SNAP program over the next decade, and also reduced the ability of states to boost an individual’s benefits, requiring that an individual receive at least $20 or more in state Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) aid, before that individual’s SNAP benefits are automatically increased. In an effort to avoid the cuts, the six governors have directed their states to increase LIHEAP contributions, effectively nullifying the farm bills’ reductions and ensuring households maintain access to SNAP benefits. With more states expected to follow suit, the move has provoked a backlash from Congressional supporters of the SNAP cuts, who are threatening to attempt pass legislation to prevent such tweaks by the states or overhaul the food stamp program entirely.

Both chambers of Congress will be in session next week.


On the Hill: UI, CCDBG, and PFA

A bipartisan group of senators announced yesterday a compromise to extend emergency jobless aid. The issue of paying for an extension of unemployment benefits had stalled several attempts at renewing the aid since it expired in late December. The proposed plan will extend benefits for five months, including retroactive payments to the unemployed Americans who saw their benefits expire since the end of 2013. The deal, struck by a group led by Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, would be offset by so-called “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill that were due to expire, and by extending customs user fees through 2024. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said earlier that he expected any agreement to come to the floor immediately after the Senate returns from recess the week of March 24. The extension of expanded jobless aid continues to be opposed by some Republicans who contend it does not include sufficient requirements to streamline job training programs and encourage workers to find and take new jobs. Though the Senate deal announced Thursday has tentative bipartisan support, its prospects in the Republican controlled House of Representatives remain uncertain.

The Senate also made progress this week with federal Child Care Block Grant legislation, passing the measure by a 97-1 vote on Thursday. The measure would reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which has not been reauthorized since 1996. The program directs about $2.4 billion in discretionary funds and $2.9 billion in mandatory funds in the current fiscal year to the states to help low-income families pay for child care. The measure requires a report from the Health and Human Services and Education departments on how to streamline federal early childhood education programs. Senators adopted by voice vote several amendments, including one from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that would require child care providers’ training to include early language and literacy development, and another from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), that would allow funds under the bill to be used to connect child care staff with federal and state financial aid or other resources for training.

Finally, in their broader push to cast a spotlight on income inequality, Senate Democrats plan to link their efforts to raise the federal minimum wage with legislation aimed at ensuring equal pay for women. Leaders in the Senate are planning for floor action in early April on a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years, with the plan showcasing the impact of the minimum wage on women. Supporters of the wage hike emphasize studies showing that well over 50 percent of minimum wage jobs are held by women and that a raise in minimum wage would help reduce the disparity in salaries paid to men and women. In addition to the minimum wage bill, other Senators are pushing for floor consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would expand legal options for resolving complaints of salary bias.

Both the House and Senate will be in recess next week, returning on Monday, March 24.