Jobless-Aid Bill Makes School Employees Eligible for Benefits

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WASHINGTON--The House last week approved an emergency unemployment-compensation bill that could make some nonprofessional school employees eligible for unemployment payments when school is not in session.

The Senate, however, was expected to take up its version of the bill-which does not include the provision regarding school workers--late last week or early this week.

The House bill, HR 3040, was approved by a vote of 283 to 125. It would allow state legislatures to permit school employees such as janitors and bus drivers to collect unemployment benefits if they could not find regular employment during the summer.

School districts would have to reimburse the states for the unemployment benefits.

The provision was included in last year's budget-reconciliation bill but was removed during the House-Senate conference because of Senate objections.

Veto Threatened

The main purpose of the unemployment legislation is to provide up to 20 additional weeks of aid to help workers affected by the recession.

President Bush signed a similar bill last August but kept it from taking effect by refusing to declare an economic emergency, a step that would have permitted federal spending to exceed the limit set under the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act.

The bill passed by the House states that its provisions should be treated as if the President had declared an emergency. The House passed the bill by a majority of more than two-thirds, more than necessary to override a threatened Presidential veto.

Option Restored

States had the option of making payments to unemployed nonprofessional school personnel until 1983, when the Congress removed the allowance under the Social Security Amendments of 1983.

HR 3040 would again give states that option.

According to a member of the House Ways and Means Committee staff, about a dozen states exercised the option to compensate nonprofessional school employees before 1983, and about the same number would again be expected to do so.

The aide noted that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the federal government would pay out an extra $20 million annually in unemployment benefits, but also would receive that amount in reimbursements.

Representative Dan Rostenkowski, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and who sponsored the bill, offered to strike the schools provision from the bill.

He said the provision could be perceived as a tax bill if additional local taxes would be required by school districts to meet the obligation. The House voted to retain the provision by a vote of 324 to 84.

'We Don't Have the Money'

Gwendolyn Gregory, deputy general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said the organization has not taken an official position on the issue.

She noted, however, that providing unemployment benefits to non-professional workers would be "extraordinarily expensive for us."

"With school districts going broke and we're cutting back on curriculum and cutting back on services to students, it seems ridiculous to force us to do something we don't have the money to pay for," Ms. Gregory said.

She said she does not know how many employees or school districts could be affected if the provision becomes law.

The bill would revise the unemployment-compensation system at a cost of $6.5 billion over the next five years.

Unemployed persons now receive benefits for 26 weeks. The bill would extend those benefits by 10, 15, or 20 weeks, depending on a state's unemployment rate.

The President has said he would support extending unemployment benefits for between 6 and 10 weeks if there was a fiscal offset, as Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, has proposed.

Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 21

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