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.

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Written by Arthur Delaney for Huffington Post

Add Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to the list of states considering cuts to unemployment insurance.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly needs to pass a law in order for the state to remain eligible for the federal Extended Benefits program for the rest of the year, which provides the final 20 weeks of checks in Pennsylvania for people who use up 73 weeks of combined state and federal aid. Within the past two months, lawmakers in Michigan, Missouri and Florida permanently slashed state unemployment aid in bills that preserve temporary federal aid.

Two Republican-sponsored measures moving through the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania statehouse would achieve similar results. And in Wisconsin, a proposal by Republican Gov. Scott Walker would restore the Extended Benefits program after local lawmakers let it lapse with virtually no public debate last month. But Walker’s bill would also permanently install a one-week waiting period for new claimants before any jobless claims are paid, relieving Wisconsin businesses of a $45.2 million tax burden. (Wisconsin is one of 13 states that had no waiting week in 2010.)

“Without knowing exactly how the state arrived at the $45.2 million figure, it is safe to say that a roughly equivalent amount will come out of workers’ pockets,” said Mike Evangelist of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

States pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, and during recessions the federal government pays for extra weeks. While current federal unemployment benefits will only be around until January barring an unlikely congressional reauthorization, changes to state law will be permanent.

The bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would save the state $632 million chiefly by cutting the average weekly payment from $324 to $277, according to Sharon Dietrich, an attorney with Community Legal Services, a nonprofit group that advocates for poor people in Pennsylvania. The bill in the Pennsylvania Senate — which Dietrich said she considers “way more innocuous” — would, like its counterpart in the House, tighten work-search requirements, but would only result in a net spending decrease of $50 million, Dietrich said. Each bill will reach the floor of its respective chamber early next week.

“On June 11, approximately 45,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians who currently qualify for federal extended benefits will be dropped from the unemployment rolls unless we slightly modify the state law,” State Sen. John Gordner (R) said in a statement.  “It costs the state no money to qualify for these fully funded federal benefits through the end of the year, and results in an estimated $150 million in economic benefits.”

South Carolina is also considering cutting state aid, and lawmakers in North Carolina and Tennessee are still debating measures to revive the EB program after they let it die last month.

And in the U.S. Congress, Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would give states leeway to trim federal aid to the unemployed to use the money instead to repay federal unemployment government loans

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.”

As reported in Huffington Post 12/17/10

The Associated Press | 12/17/10 04:03 AM | AP

//

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Highlights of the tax package passed by Congress late Thursday and sent to President Barack Obama. It would cost about $858 billion; most provisions, which were to expire Jan. 1, would be extended for two years, unless noted.

The package extends:

_Lower rates for taxpayers at every income level. The top rate, on taxable income above $379,150, would stay at 35 percent, instead of increasing to 39.6 percent. The bottom rate, on taxable income below $8,500 for individuals and $17,000 for married couples, would stay at 10 percent, instead of increasing to 15 percent. Cost: $186.8 billion.

_More generous itemized deductions for high-income households. Cost: $20.7 billion.

_A more generous $1,000 child tax credit. Cost: $71.7 billion.

_Marriage penalty relief, increasing the standard deduction for married couples. Cost: $18 billion.

_A more generous Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families. Cost: $15.7 billion.

_A series of tax breaks for students and their families, including interest deduction for student loans and an exemption for employer-provided educational assistance. Cost: $3.3 billion.

_A deduction for tuition and related expenses for higher education, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $1.2 billion.

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_A tax credit of up to $2,500 for students’ higher education expenses. Cost: $17.6 billion.

_The top capital gains tax rate of 15 percent. Cost: $25.9 billion.

_The top tax rate on dividends of 15 percent. Cost: $27.3 billion.

_Through 2011, enhanced jobless benefits for people who have been unemployed for long stretches. Cost: $56.5 billion.

_A series of incentives for selling, using and producing alternative fuels, including ethanol. Many of the provisions expired at the end of 2009. They would be extended through 2011. Cost: $11.3 billion.

_A $250 deduction for out-of-pocket classroom expenses by teachers, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $390 million.

_A federal income tax deduction for state and local sales taxes, taken mostly by people who live in the nine states without state income taxes, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $5.5 billion.

_The ability of older Americans to withdraw up to $100,000 a year from Individual Retirement Accounts, tax-free, to donate to certain public charities, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $979 million.

_A business tax credit for research and experimentation expenses, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $13.3 billion.

_Tax breaks for capital improvements to restaurants and other retail buildings, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $3.6 billion.

_A tax break for active investors in foreign-based banking, securities and insurance firms, for 2010 and 2011. Cost: $9.2 billion.

_Increased depreciation and expensing for capital investments by businesses. Cost: $21.8 billion.

The package also:

_Spares more than 20 million middle-income households from tax increases averaging $3,900 from the Alternative Minimum Tax in 2010 and 2011. Cost: $136.7 billion.

_Imposes a lower estate tax for the next two years, allowing couples to pass estates as large as $10 million to heirs tax-free. The balance would be taxed at 35 percent. Cost: $68.1 billion.

_Provides a one-year Social Security tax cut for all wage earners, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Cost: $112 billion.

___

Source: Joint Committee on Taxation