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House Agrees to End Supplemental Jobless Benefits

April 03, 1985|SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — With President Reagan opposed to any extension of the supplemental unemployment compensation program, the House voted Tuesday to let the program expire as scheduled but to maintain all 340,000 beneficiaries currently on the rolls until their benefits run out.

The Senate Finance Committee adopted a similar measure, and the full Senate is expected to approve it today.

The measure, adopted by voice vote in the House, represented a major concession by industrial-state Democrats who previously had led the fight to renew the program. Federal Supplemental Compensation now provides an extra 8 to 14 weeks of unemployment benefits after other benefits--26 weeks in most states--are exhausted.

Democratic leaders said they agreed to the phasing out of the program only because Republicans assured them that Reagan would veto any extension on grounds that the job market is improving fast enough to accommodate the unemployed. The phase-out would cost about $160 million in the current fiscal year; a full extension would cost an estimated $530 million.

Wasting Their Time

House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) bluntly told the Democrats during debate that they would be wasting their time to pass a more generous measure.

"The choice is either to showboat for something more and get nothing or to accept something less," he said.

But many Democrats clearly were unhappy with the compromise. "I am forced to vote for it even though I don't want to vote for it," said Rep. James A. Traficante Jr. (D-Ohio). "Ohio certainly is not experiencing this great economic uplift."

Although unemployment has fallen to about the level it was before the 1981-82 recession, Democrats noted that there are still pockets of high joblessness. The national unemployment rate for civilians was 7.3% in February, but it exceeded 10% in nine states.

Program's Third Stage

Federal Supplemental Compensation is the third stage of a three-tier program of benefits for jobless workers. Unemployed workers receive up to 26 weeks of regular benefits funded by state taxes, and the jobless in high-unemployment states--currently only West Virginia and Alaska--are eligible for another 13 weeks of extended benefits funded jointly by state and federal taxes. The final 8 to 14 weeks are strictly federally financed.

Of the 8.9 million persons unemployed in February, only 3.7 million were receiving unemployment compensation of any kind. Unless Congress acts, the 340,000 persons currently receiving Federal Supplemental Compensation will get their last benefit checks Saturday.

The phase-out plan could hit a snag on the Senate floor today if Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) tries to amend it, as he has promised. Aides said Levin is drafting an amendment that would ease the state eligibility requirements for extended benefits--the second stage--and allow workers in seven states in addition to West Virginia and Alaska to receive them.

Aides estimated that Levin's proposal would make these benefits available for an additional 60,000 persons at a cost of $20 million to the federal government during the remainder of the current fiscal year and $40 million in fiscal 1986.

But the White House is expected to reject Levin's proposal, just as the President's aides on Tuesday sent word that Reagan would veto a House Ways and Means subcommittee plan to continue a modified version of the federal supplemental benefits costing $270 million.

As a result, the subcommittee's modified extension plan was rejected by the full Ways and Means Committee by a vote of 20 to 16. Eight Democrats, including Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), voted with the majority.

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