The Idaho Senate approve legislation that would let jobless workers continue to collect long-term unemployment benefits paid by the federal government. Seven state senators voted against the plan, which faced stronger opposition in the Idaho House.
The legislation would let Idahoans without a job receive federal unemployment benefits that can last up to 99 weeks. Congress approved the legislation at the end of 2010, when it also renewed the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts. The federal government would keep paying for the extended unemployment benefits until the end of this year.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, laid out the numbers of the plan, saying 74,000 Idahoans are unemployed, with 8,300 people receiving the extended federal benefits. If lawmakers didn’t pass the legislation, 2,000 of those people would lose their benefits, followed by 600 people a month.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, voted against the plan, saying he’s critical of the federal government’s spending that’s driving up deficits. “I guess this is our chance to say we don’t agree,” Pearce said. “Somewhere we’ve got to draw a line.” Pearce also questioned whether the jobless benefits could encourage people to stay home rather than go back to work.
“This is not the mechanism to tell Congress that they’re wrong and that their spending is wrong,” Cameron said. He said a no vote on the plan would just tell citizens that they won’t get the federal benefits and tell Idaho employers that they would have to pay for jobless benefits. “This isn’t a message to Congress. It’s a message to your district.”
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said that there could be people who ‘game the system’ to receive money every week, but that the same could be said for other government payments, including subsidies for farmers and Medicaid payments for doctors. “I think we need to have compassion for those people that are unemployed,” Bock said, supporting the extension. “We’ve got families that are suffering. We’ve got people that are losing their houses.”
The Senate also approved a plan to let the state borrow more than $200 million to pay off the debt on its state unemployment insurance fund. The state fund went into debt in 2009, and the state had borrowed money interest-free from the federal government, under one of the provisions of the federal stimulus package in 2009.
The state will pay slightly less than 3 percent interest on a bond, which is more than a percentage point less than what the federal government would charge. The unemployment tax on employers wouldn’t go up under the plan, but the current maximum rates would stay in place until at least 2016.