By  Associated Press, Published: September 8

WASHINGTON — In an early show of optimism, Republicans and Democrats on a powerful committee charged with cutting deficits pledged Thursday to aim higher than their $1.2 trillion target, work to boost job creation and reassure an anxious nation that Congress can solve big problems.

Tax reform as well as cuts to benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare will be among the options considered, members of the so-called supercommittee emphasized, although no specific proposals were debated at an opening session than ran scarcely an hour.

While they readily acknowledged numerous obstacles to a deal, committee members said it was essential to try at a time the economy is weak, joblessness is high and the country gives every sign of intense frustration with its elected leaders.

Compromise “is the difference between a divided government that works for the country and a dysfunctional government that doesn’t,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the last of a dozen members to speak.

The panel, co-chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., lawmakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum, hopes to help broker a deal somewhere in the middle — on an issue where failure is the rule.

Shortly after the session, at least one Republican member threatened to quit if the panel considers cuts in defense beyond the $350 billion over a decade that Congress approved last month as part of a package of deep spending reductions and an increase in the debt limit.

“I’m off the committee if we’re going to talk about further defense” cuts, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said he told panel members. Speaking at a defense forum, Kyl said the military “has given enough already, and any further hit would be inimical to our national security around the globe.”

The committee, three members from each party in each house, faces a deadline of Nov. 23. Its most consequential sessions are expected to take place in closed door sessions that will give President Barack Obama and congressional leaders from both parties the opportunity to influence the outcome.

Ironically, the committee owes its existence to earlier failed attempts at sweeping deficit-cutting compromises, most recently an abortive negotiation between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Their talks collapsed over the summer, at a time Republicans were demanding deficit cuts in exchange for passage of legislation to raise the debt limit and prevent a first-ever government default.

In the end, the two sides agreed to increase the debt limit by enough to let the Treasury pay its bills through 2012 while also cutting $1 trillion over a decade from one category of government programs.

It was a significant sum, but far less than the White House and some Republicans had been hoping for. Nor did it change the tax code or significantly affect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, farm programs and other costly benefit programs than many lawmakers say must be part of any attempt to slow and ultimately reduce the nation’s debt.

That is particularly true of Republicans, although Democrats are largely unwilling to go along unless their GOP counterparts will agree to higher revenues at the same time.

“I approach our task with a profound sense of urgency, high hopes, and realistic expectations,” Hensarling said as he gaveled the session to order. He said the task “will not be easy, but it is essential,” and said the panel “must be primarily about saving and reforming social safety net programs that are not only failing many beneficiaries but going broke at the same time.”

A fellow Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, added another item to the agenda moments later, speaking of “wasteful tax subsidies” that should be eliminated and calling for changes that can turn the tax code into an engine for more economic growth.

“When huge, iconic American corporations can pay little or no income tax, well that’s indefensible,” he said. “So I think we ought to wipe out those special interest favors, have commensurately lower rates, encourage the economic growth that will generate more revenues, generate more jobs.”

Among Democrats, Murray stressed the importance of compromise, saying that in meetings with constituents last month, they “asked why it was that every time they turn on their televisions, they hear about more political battling, more partisan rancor_but nothing more being done for people like them.”

She added pointedly that she was pleased that other members of the panel “have refrained from drawing in the sand or carving out areas that can’t be touched” as part of any deal.

The committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing next week at which Douglas Elmendorf, head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is expected to explain the forces that have driven the annual deficits into the $1 trillion-plus range, and left the country with a debt of $14 trillion.

The legislation that created the committee also approved a $400 billion debt limit increase, and permitted Obama to request yet another $500 billion increase, with an option for Congress to block it. An attempt to do so failed in the Senate on Thursday evening.

If the committee fails to produce a 10-year package of cuts of at least $1.2 trillion, across-the-board spending cuts would take place that would and simultaneously allow the president to seek another increase in the federal debt limit of the same size.

On the other hand, any agreement on cuts totaling up to $1.5 trillion that are approved by both houses of Congress would permit Obama to request a dollar-for-dollar rise in the debt limit. There is no upper limit to the amount of deficit reductions the panel can recommend.

The committee proceedings were briefly interrupted by demonstrators who shouted “Jobs Now!” in a hallway outside the room. The group dispersed after police threatened them with arrest.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

On Vacation

August 11, 2011

Go ahead,

 

Take a look around…

 

 

Everyone is on vacation

 

 

 

Try calling a client….

 

 

Catch up with me after
Labor Day

 

I’m taking some time
off

 

 

Why am I even writing this post?

 

 

 

I’ll probably just get a lot of

 

Out of the Office return reply messages?

 

 

For you faithful few….

 

 

 

The warriors!!!!!!

 

 

Vacation…

 

 

Humbug…..

 

 

 

I don’t care how hot
it is!!!!

 

 

 

I’m gonna work

 

 

 

Even if I can’t get
anything done

 

Because everyone is
away

 

 

 

 

I will write this post for you

 

 

 

This week….

 

 

Britain is in turmoil…

 

 

A policeman shot a teen

 

The People are rioting, burning buildings

 

 

Guess what????

 

 

Cameron came back off vacation

 

 

 

Congress and Obama have spent the last month

 

Battling over the debt ceiling

 

 

 

Each claiming they are sticking to their guns

 

“We must fight to protect the middle class”

 

 

Well….

 

They came up with the grand compromise

 

 

 

And quickly left for vacation

 

 

 

Standard and Poor’s drops our credit ranking

 

 

 

The stock market drops 600 points Monday

 

 

 

As of last week

 

The stock market was down over 2000 pints

 

in the last 30 days

 

 

 

I heard that people with 401k in the stock market

 

Lost about 12% of their value last week

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Congress is on vacation

 

 

Their probably listening to the constituents’

 

 

Hang tough…..

 

Don’t give in…..

 

We’ve got your back…..

 

 

 

 

Who has our back?

 

 

 

 

Why am I thinking about this?

 

 

 

I should be on vacation

As reported in Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — The long-term unemployed have been left out of a deal between congressional negotiators and the White House to enact massive spending cuts and raise the nation’s debt ceiling before its borrowing limit is reached on Tuesday.

Under the so-called grand bargain President Obama tried to strike with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), federal unemployment benefits would have been extended beyond January 2012, when they are set to expire.

But those negotiations collapsed in July. On Sunday, congressional leaders and the administration crafted a not-so-grand bargain that will cut spending without raising taxes or preserving stimulus programs like federal unemployment insurance.

Asked Sunday night why spending to help the unemployed had been left out of the deal, a White House official said, “because it had to be part of a bigger deal to be part of this.”

In other words, Democrats need significant leverage to get Republicans to agree to additional spending on the unemployed. Federal unemployment insurance programs, which kick in for laid off workers who use up 26 weeks of state benefits, cost a lot of money: Keeping the programs through this year required an estimated $56 billion. In December, Democrats only managed to keep the programs alive for another 13 months by attaching them to a two-year reauthorization of tax cuts.

Anyone laid off after July 1 is ineligible for extra weeks of benefits under current law. People who started filing claims in July who exhaust their six months of state benefits in January will be on their own. (People who are in the middle of a “tier” of federal benefits will probably be able to receive the remaining weeks in their tier, but they will definitely be ineligible for the next level up.) Since 2008, layoff victims could receive as many as 73 additional weeks of benefits, depending on what state they lived in.

Nearly 4 million people currently claim benefits under the two main federal programs (known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits), according to the latest numbers from the Labor Department. Another 3 million are on state benefits.

// // The White House official suggested it would be easier for the administration to preserve a Social Security payroll tax cut enacted as part of the December deal because Republicans would view its expiration as a tax increase. “The payroll tax cut will be extended because if they do not that would be a tax increase on every American, something I’m confident, if you believe Speaker Boehner when he says we will not have tax increases, it will have to be [extended],” the official said.

Asked if the White House would continue to push for a reauthorization of federal unemployment benefits, the official said, “Absolutely, we will absolutely keep pushing for that.”

The unemployment rate is not expected to come down anytime soon, and economic forecasters said earlier versions of the deal currently awaiting action in Congress would significantly slow economic growth because of reduced government spending.

Judy Conti is a lobbyist who deals with Congress and the administration for the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. She agreed with the official that unemployment benefits would have to be part of a big deal.

“Things like the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance are controversial and increasingly partisan issues. In order for those to be resolved so far in advance before their expiration there would have had to have been a very significant deal,” Conti said. “Once the grand bargain died, the chance for any meaningful stimulus died as well.”

Sam Stein contributed reporting.

As reported in Huffington Post Business

Written by William Alden

NEW YORK — As politicians fight over the federal debt ceiling, Americans could start feeling the consequences of Congressional gridlock even before that limit is hit.

Moody’s Investors Service warned on Thursday that if lawmakers have not made progress in negotiations to raise the debt limit by mid-July, the ratings agency plans to reassess the nation’s sterling credit rating for a possible downgrade. The warning, coming after Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on U.S. debt to “negative” in April, underscores that the current political stalemate in Washington has already begun to dampen the nation’s economic prospects.

A downgrade from Moody’s on U.S. debt, or even the imminent threat of one, could itself begin to choke the economic processes that still have not fully recovered from the Great Recession. It would imply that a credit default is possible, likely causing yields on Treasury debt to rise and pushing up interest rates across the board.

“It would be an earth-shattering event,” said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “It’s taken as a given that U.S. Treasuries are a safe asset. Once you question that assumption, it shakes the foundations of global finance, and the way it’s been established over the last 50 years.”

Federal lawmakers have been locked in a debate over raising the nation’s legal borrowing limit, as the vote to allow the government to fund its existing obligations has been tied to a more controversial legislative agenda. Congressional Republicans insist they will not vote to raise the limit without also achieving measures to reduce the federal deficit, while economic officials in the Obama administration warn that procrastination on the debt ceiling vote could have disastrous consequences.

The country could be forced to default if the limit is not raised by August 2, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in a letter to Congress last month.

But the economic pain could begin before that date. The risk of a default by the U.S. government has risen, Moody’s Investors Service said in a note posted to its website. Moody’s incorporates these considerations into its credit ratings, which are treated by many investors as authoritative assessments of credit quality. Investors use these ratings in their decisions to buy or sell a security.

The country will keep its top rating if the government does not default, Moody’s said. But if the agency determines there isn’t significant progress on a deal by mid-July, it will initiate the process that could lead to a downgrade, the agency said in the release.

“Although Moody’s fully expected political wrangling prior to an increase in the statutory debt limit, the degree of entrenchment into conflicting positions has exceeded expectations,” the note reads. “The heightened polarization over the debt limit has increased the odds of a short-lived default.”

Moody’s added that its long-term assessment would also depend on lawmakers’ hammering out a plan to reduce the federal deficit. S&P sounded a similar note in April, saying it could downgrade U.S. credit if lawmakers don’t settle on a plan to reduce the deficit and debt by 2013.

Investor confidence in Treasury debt began to show cracks on Thursday. Yields on U.S. debt have been low for the past several months even as politicians fight over the debt limit, suggesting that investors believe the government will not ultimately default. But yields edged up on Thursday as the value of the debt fell.

The 10-year Treasury note was yielding nearly 3.03 percent on Thursday, after closing on Wednesday at 2.95 percent. Rising interest rates suggest investors perceive the debt as risky, demanding higher payment in compensation for this lack of safety.

As congressional negotiations drag on, this trend in bond markets could continue, said Anderson, the Wells Fargo economist. Higher Treasury rates would make borrowing more expensive for businesses and individual Americans. Especially in light of Friday’s dismal jobs report, any further economic strain should be avoided, Anderson said.

“The markets would start pricing in the possibility of default even before the drop-dead deadline,” he said. “We can’t deal with another shock.”

For Our Own Deficit

May 13, 2011

Well……. we did avoid a government shutdown.

Thanks to some last minute wrangling down and DC,

the US economy lives on…..

limping until the end of September 2011.

All eyes now have turned to the vote on raising the debt ceiling.

Officially, the government states we should pass the debt limit sometime in early to mid-May.

What would happen if the Congress votes not to raise the debt ceiling?

Steps can be taken at that time to start shuffling who and what to pay…..

That should buy us another month.

Reports are that if the debt ceiling is not raised by the beginning of July,

The US will go into default.

What would happen should the US go into default?

  • The United States would default on its bond payments and would see its credit rating fall dramatically
  • Bondholders’ would be unable to receive interest payments
  • Investors would have a difficult time trusting the United States to honor its obligations and demand for long term United States debt would fall.
  • Senior citizen would not receive their Social Security checks
    • loss of these dollars would likely further hurt domestic consumption in the United States and place an undue strain on the budgets of senior citizens
  • A default will lead to increased risks for owning U.S. bonds.
    • Increased risks equal higher rates
    • Business loan borrowers and individuals looking for personal loans would see their borrowing costs rise astronomically
    • home or auto loan rates will be drastically higher, since access to credit would be at a premium

           

That’s just a snap shot of what to expect.

We made it thru the Great Recession.

Many experts feel this would throw the US into another Great Depression.

.

Not much time to dawdle!!!

Several weeks ago….

Standard and Poors, for the first time lowered its long term outlook for the federal government’s fiscal health……

From stable

To negative……..

They warned of serious consequences

If the lawmakers fail to reach a deal to control the massive federal deficit

So when is Congress expected to start tackling this issue?

It is reported they will start meeting on this issue sometime in June.

Congress just passed the 2011 budget!!!!

Heck, we still have 5 months left until the 2011 fiscal year is over.

Yet they will resolve the debt issue in 30 days?

America is a great country

No matter what is said

There is no place better to live

Everyone would love to enjoy

The freedoms we take for granted.

The debt ceiling and the deficit…….

Should not be a political issue

It is not going to go away

What are we doing to provide a secure future for the next generation?

We must carefully look at all the programs

Analyze what works

And put a true dollar value on sustainability

We are at a fork in the road

And the decisions we make

Will determine what path we go down

As reported by Ebru News             Feb 19,2011 

WASHINGTON (AP) – State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.

“Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate,” federal auditors said in a 1988 report.

It’s clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.

The ramifications will be felt for years.

In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.

In the long term, state will have to replenish their unemployment insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes, leaving companies with less money to invest.

Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001 recession.

But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington.

The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of boosting depleted trust funds.

Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department manages the trust funds that hold each state’s taxes.

Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began.

Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower than at any time in the program’s history when adjusted for inflation, the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when compared with average weekly wages.

“If you look at it from the employers’ standpoint, they’re not going to want reserves to build up excessively high because then there’s an increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the high reserves and say, ‘We can afford to increase benefits,”‘ said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.

In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.

Republican Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.

“The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reasoIt was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,” Butler said. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15 years and helps explain why the state’s trust fund dropped from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

“It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund to make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times,” said Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “In good economic times you build up your bank account, but in New Jersey, they said, ‘Well, we have all this money, let’s spend it.”‘

California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.

Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.

“We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn’t passed to increase revenue,” Levy said.

California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of $362 million by the end of September.

In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994 through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112 million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.

Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an approach called “pay-as-you-go.” Texas is a nationally recognized leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it’s better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3 billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.

“By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of jobs and stimulation of economic growth,” said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the mid-1990s.

“It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing down of reserves during recessions,” said the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.

Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said there’s no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes against one of the original aims of the program – to act as an economic stabilizer in bad times. That’s because businesses are asked to pay more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.

A survey from Hobbies’ organization found that 35 states raised their state unemployment taxes last year.

Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle out of complacency.

“I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn’t experience the bad recessions we had in, say the mid ’70s, and then this big surprise hit,” he said.

By

Robert Reich

Why aren’t Americans being told the truth about the economy? We’re heading in the direction of a double dip — but you’d never know it if you listened to the upbeat messages coming out of Wall Street and Washington.

Consumers are 70 percent of the American economy, and consumer confidence is plummeting. It’s weaker today on average than at the lowest point of the Great Recession.

The Reuters/University of Michigan survey shows a 10 point decline in March — the tenth largest drop on record. Part of that drop is attributable to rising fuel and food prices. A separate Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence, just released, shows consumer confidence at a five-month low — and a large part is due to expectations of fewer jobs and lower wages in the months ahead.

Pessimistic consumers buy less. And fewer sales spells economic trouble ahead.

What about the 192,000 jobs added in February? (We’ll know more Friday about how many jobs were added in March.) It’s peanuts compared to what’s needed. Remember, 125,000 new jobs are necessary just to keep up with a growing number of Americans eligible for employment. And the nation has lost so many jobs over the last three years that even at a rate of 200,000 a month we wouldn’t get back to 6 percent unemployment until 2016.

But isn’t the economy growing again — by an estimated 2.5 to 2.9 percent this year? Yes, but that’s even less than peanuts. The deeper the economic hole, the faster the growth needed to get back on track. By this point in the so-called recovery we’d expect growth of 4 to 6 percent.

Consider that back in 1934, when it was emerging from the deepest hole of the Great Depression, the economy grew 7.7 percent. The next year it grew over 8 percent. In 1936 it grew a whopping 14.1 percent.

Add two other ominous signs: Real hourly wages continue to fall, and housing prices continue to drop. Hourly wages are falling because with unemployment so high, most people have no bargaining power and will take whatever they can get. Housing is dropping because of the ever-larger number of homes people have walked away from because they can’t pay their mortgages. But because homes the biggest asset most Americans own, as home prices drop most Americans feel even poorer.

There’s no possibility government will make up for the coming shortfall in consumer spending. To the contrary, government is worsening the situation. State and local governments are slashing their budgets by roughly $110 billion this year. The federal stimulus is ending, and the federal government will end up cutting some $30 billion from this year’s budget.

In other words: Watch out. We may avoid a double dip but the economy is slowing ominously, and the booster rockets are disappearing.

So why aren’t we getting the truth about the economy? For one thing, Wall Street is buoyant — and most financial news you hear comes from the Street. Wall Street profits soared to $426.5 billion last quarter, according to the Commerce Department. (That gain more than offset a drop in the profits of non-financial domestic companies.) Anyone who believes the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill put a stop to the Street’s creativity hasn’t been watching.

To the extent non-financial companies are doing well, they’re making most of their money abroad. Since 1992, for example, G.E.’s offshore profits have risen $92 billion, from $15 billion (which is one reason it pays no U.S. taxes). In fact, the only group that’s optimistic about the future are CEOs of big American companies. The Business Roundtable’s economic outlook index, which surveys 142 CEOs, is now at its highest point since it began in 2002.

Washington, meanwhile, doesn’t want to sound the economic alarm. The White House and most Democrats want Americans to believe the economy is on an upswing.

Republicans, for their part, worry that if they tell it like it is Americans will want government to do more rather than less. They’d rather not talk about jobs and wages, and put the focus instead on deficit reduction (or spread the lie that by reducing the deficit we’ll get more jobs and higher wages).

I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it’s better you know.

By Lisa Fleisher/Statehouse Bureau

As reported on NJ.com

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie Thursday will propose major changes to the state’s broken unemployment system, reducing benefits for workers and limiting tax increases on employers, legislative and administration officials said tonight.

Christie’s proposal, which will need to be passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, is aimed at softening a tax hike business groups said was their top concern for the year, while also targeting benefits given to future unemployed workers.

Democratic lawmakers have said they would fight to protect benefits for workers, but they also said increasing taxes employers pay for workers could stunt job growth.

“I am going to have to support some element of what is being put on the table,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex), who was briefed on the proposal Thursday. But “to have unemployed people, quote, ‘share the burden’ of dealing with our fiscal (problem), it’s like adding insult to injury to devastated New Jerseyans.”

The proposal, which would take effect in July, would reduce tax increases on businesses, institute a one-week waiting period for people receiving benefits, reduce the maximum weekly benefits check by $50 and increase benefit restrictions on people fired for “misconduct,” said Oliver and two senior Christie administration officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak before the announcement.

With the state’s jobless rate hovering around 10 percent, the proposal would not affect employees already on unemployment.


Full Star-Ledger coverage of the N.J. budget


Christie’s proposal is a shift from a statement he made just before taking office in January. He had said he wanted to find a way to help employers, but the state would have to “pay the piper on this” and he would not ask for legislation to put off the tax increase.

Those taxes on employers pay most of the cost of providing state benefits to laid-off workers. But politicians in both parties for years used unemployment taxes for other purposes, such as paying for health care for the poor.

A constitutional amendment, which Christie supports, will go on the ballot in November asking voters to force the Legislature to stop raiding accounts such as the New Jersey Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

When New Jersey and the country plunged into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the state quickly ran out of money to pay benefits. That triggered a tax increase lawmakers have tried to soften.

“There’s no bigger issue for the economy, for future economic growth, for this state,” said Arthur Maurice, a vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “Unless it’s resolved, there will be greater unemployment and no hope of any jobs recovery in the state.”

Without the proposed changes, the average employer in July would see taxes go up 58 percent — or $390 a year — per employee, according to the administration. The changes would hold that increase, on average, to 17 percent this year, or $130 per employee and further limit the potential for increases through 2013.

New Jersey has borrowed $1.2 billion from the federal government in the past year, and Christie and lawmakers have asked congressional representatives to work to get the loan forgiven.

Under Christie’s changes, future laid-off workers would have to bear some of the pain. The maximum weekly state benefit would be scaled back from $600 to $550, and people would have to wait a week to get a check. That means people who take weeklong furloughs — or temporary, unpaid time off — would not be eligible for benefits for that first week.

Those provisions will likely face the biggest fight.

“It’s something that I would have a very hard time supporting,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex). “I think it’s Draconian.”


Posted by: Mitchell Hirsch on Feb 17, 2011

As reported by Unemployedworkers.org

UPDATE: FEB. 17 – UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE SOLVENCY BILL INTRODUCED IN SENATE
Senator Richard Durbin (IL), with Senators Jack Reed (RI) and Sherrod Brown (OH), today introduced the Unemployment Insurance Solvency Act of 2011, which offers immediate tax relief to cash-strapped states and employers, preserves UI benefit levels, and creates strong incentives for states to restore their UI programs to solvency while also rewarding states that have managed their UI trust funds effectively.

In a statement, NELP Executive Director Christine Owens said, “Jobless workers, and we hope employers too, should be grateful for the leadership of Senator Richard Durbin and his colleagues Sherrod Brown and Jack Reed on the issue of unemployment insurance solvency.  Following the President’s FY 2012 budget, the introduction of the Unemployment Insurance Solvency Act sets the stage for a serious conversation on how to make sure that the safety net tens of millions of Americans have counted on during the tough times of the last few years will be financially secure into the future.”

The new bill is similar to the plan outlined by President Obama in his remarks last week, but adds further protections for benefits and additional opportunities and incentives for states to return to solvency in the long run. 

Original Post: Feb. 11

Unemployment insurance is just that — insurance — and it’s financed by premiums paid on workers’ paychecks and deposited into a trust fund.  However, the unemployment insurance (UI) trust funds in many states are not only insolvent, but now face heavy debt burdens due to their increased need for federal borrowing during this prolonged period of high unemployment.  Restoring them to financial health is essential to ensure that unemployment insurance benefits are there for workers when they’re needed, both today and in the future.  The Administration has outlined a significant framework to address the problem, which would provide needed debt and tax relief to states and businesses.

A new plan from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) would build on that framework, further strengthening the long-term solvency of state UI systems while avoiding benefit cuts and employer tax increases.  Workers need to pay attention to this issue.  The last time UI trust funds got hit this hard, in the 1980s, 44 states cut back benefits for workers.

Many states UI trust funds have been hit in recent years by a double-engine freight train.  First, for years many states have inadequately financed their UI funds, both by keeping their taxable wage base for UI too low relative to inflation-adjusted dollar values, and by taking a dangerous “pay-as-you-go” approach, which failed to build adequate reserves during periods of economic growth.  The graph below shows the substantial erosion in the inflation-adjusted value of the wage base that is subject to the UI taxes that fund state systems.  What does this mean?  It means that the employer of a dishwasher pays the same unemployment premium as the employer of a banker.  It does not take a degree in actuarial science to know that this is not going to work.

Value of UI Taxable Wage Base, Adjusted

And oh yeah, second — well, then came the Great Recession with millions of workers’ jobs being lost and the vastly increased need for unemployment benefits to help sustain unemployed job-seekers and their families.

Now, 30 states have exhausted their UI trust funds and are borrowing from the federal government.

The lead editorial in The New York Times yesterday, titled ‘Relief for States and Businesses’, explained the need for the Obama administration’s approach.  Here are some excerpts:

So many people now receive jobless benefits that 30 states have run out of their unemployment trust funds and are borrowing $42 billion from the federal government. Three of the hardest-hit states — Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina — have borrowed so much that they triggered automatic unemployment tax increases on employers, and the same thing is likely to happen to 20 more states this year.

….

On Tuesday, the Obama administration unveiled a smart proposal to delay those tax increases and provide some relief to both employers and state governments. Congressional Republicans reflexively objected to the idea, which could produce higher taxes in three years, but this plan provides relief that might stimulate hiring now when it is most needed.

….

Under the plan, which is subject to Congressional approval, there would be a two-year moratorium on the increased taxes that employers would otherwise have to pay to support the unemployment insurance system, which could save businesses as much as $7 billion. During those same two years, states would be forgiven from paying the $1.3 billion in interest they owe Washington on the money they have borrowed.

….

In 2014, when the economy will presumably have recovered somewhat, employers will have to make up for the moratorium by paying higher unemployment taxes to the states. Specifically, they will have to pay taxes on the first $15,000 of an employee’s income, instead of the current $7,000. But, even then, unemployment taxes will be at the same level, adjusted for inflation, as they were in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan raised them.

The administration is proposing to cut the federal unemployment tax rate in 2014 so that employers would pay the same amount to Washington as they do now. States, if they choose to do so, could collect more from each employer to repay the federal government and restock their own unemployment trust funds.

….

The full details of the plan’s costs and benefits will be available when President Obama submits his 2012 budget to Congress next week. When he does, both parties should take a close look at the numbers and seize the opportunity to keep this fundamental safety net solvent.

“It is a major step forward for the President’s FY 2012 budget to address the UI trust fund crisis,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project and a co-author of the new joint NELP-CBPP policy proposal.  “Our proposal rests on the same core principles — giving employers and states relief now while taking concrete steps to restore the long term solvency of the UI trust fund as the economy recovers.  The plan endorses two key aspects of what the Administration’s proposal reportedly includes — raising the taxable wage base up from the inadequate, outdated level of $7,000 and endorsing a two-year moratorium on federal UI tax increases.”

The NELP-CBPP plan, detailed in a new report, would enable states to restore the solvency of their UI trust funds, avoid significant tax increases on employers during a weak economy, and prevent damaging cuts in UI eligibility and benefits for jobless workers, without increasing the deficit.  The plan also suggests additional debt relief for states and positive incentives for employers, rewards states that have maintained sound financing packages, and builds on existing federal protections of state benefit levels.

In a statement, the groups provide a summary of the plan:

• The federal government would gradually raise the amount of a worker’s wages subject to the federal UI tax (i.e., the FUTA taxable wage base). This would automatically raise the floor for the taxable wage bases in the states which by law cannot be lower than the federal wage base, helping those states rebuild their trust funds. (The federal UI tax rate would fall, however, so that overall federal UI taxes did not go up.)

• The federal government would provide a moratorium, until 2013, on state interest payments on their UI loans.

• The federal government would also postpone, for two years, the FUTA tax increases required to recoup the loan principal in borrowing states.

• The federal government would offer immediate rewards and future incentives for states that currently have and continue to maintain adequate trust fund levels.

• The federal government would excuse a state from repaying part of its loan if the state (a) enters a flexible contractual agreement with the U.S. Labor Department to rebuild its trust fund to an appropriate level over a reasonable number of years, and (b) agrees to maintain UI eligibility, benefit levels, and an appropriate tax rate over the loan-reduction period.

This plan would produce the following benefits:

• Employers would not pay higher federal UI taxes until the beginning of 2014, saving them $5 billion to $7 billion while the economy remains weak and $10 billion to $18 billion over the next five years. Also, employers would pay no additional assessments to cover interest payments in 2011 or 2012, saving them $3.6 billion.

• In addition, partial loan forgiveness that comes from a state’s commitment to build adequate trust funds would save employers about $37 billion by the end of the decade. Counting the interest payments on this principal as well, employers could save as much as $50 billion.

• All or nearly all states would assume a path to permanent solvency.

• Employers in responsible states would receive concrete rewards and a more level playing field between the states.

• Adequate trust funds would stabilize UI tax rates over time, avoiding the roller-coaster tax rates common in many states — very low during healthy economic times, rising rapidly during recessions — that harm businesses and the economy.

• States would maintain current UI benefit and eligibility levels.

• The federal deficit would not rise as a result of these policies.

“States face a tremendously urgent crisis when it comes to their unemployment insurance trust funds,” said Michael Leachman, assistant director of the Center’s State Fiscal Project and co-author of the report. “If federal policymakers address this crisis using our plan, employers could save as much as $50 billion in taxes and states would maintain the critical benefits they provide to people who lose their jobs.”

KEVIN FREKING   02/19/11 08:42 PM   AP

As reported in Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.

“Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate,” federal auditors said in a 1988 report.

It’s clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.

The ramifications will be felt for years.

In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.

In the long term, state will have to replenish their unemployment insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes, leaving companies with less money to invest.

Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001 recession.

But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington.

The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of boosting depleted trust funds.

Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department manages the trust funds that hold each state’s taxes.

Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began.

Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower than at any time in the program’s history when adjusted for inflation, the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when compared with average weekly wages.

“If you look at it from the employers’ standpoint, they’re not going to want reserves to build up excessively high because then there’s an increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the high reserves and say, ‘We can afford to increase benefits,'” said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.

In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.

Republican Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.

“The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reasoIt was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,” Butler said. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15 years and helps explain why the state’s trust fund dropped from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

“It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund – to make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times,” said Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “In good economic times you build up your bank account, but in New Jersey, they said, ‘Well, we have all this money, let’s spend it.'”

California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.

Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.

“We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn’t passed to increase revenue,” Levy said.

California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of $362 million by the end of September.

In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994 through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112 million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.

Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an approach called “pay-as-you-go.” Texas is a nationally recognized leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it’s better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3 billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.

“By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of jobs and stimulation of economic growth,” said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the mid-1990s.

“It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing down of reserves during recessions,” said the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.

Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said there’s no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes against one of the original aims of the program – to act as an economic stabilizer in bad times. That’s because businesses are asked to pay more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.

A survey from Hobbies’ organization found that 35 states raised their state unemployment taxes last year.

Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle out of complacency.

“I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn’t experience the bad recessions we had in, say the mid ’70s, and then this big surprise hit,” he said.