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Reichert Opening Statement: Hearing on Implementation of 2012 Unemployment Insurance Reforms

April 16, 2013

Welcome to today’s hearing on the progress of reforms enacted last year designed to help more unemployed individuals, especially the long-term unemployed, get back to work. Reforms enacted in 2012 were aimed at connecting those in need with the resources necessary to succeed. Today, we will take a look at what the Administration and States are doing to implement these reforms.
As we saw in the most recent disappointing jobs report, there is much more that needs to be done to help the unemployed get back to work.
Overall, we are still 2.5 million jobs short of where the President predicted we would be at the end of 2010 under his trillion-dollar 2009 stimulus plan.
Too many people are out of work. Currently, 4.6 million people – or 40% of the unemployed – are without a job for 6 months or longer, an unprecedented level prior to this Administration. Sadly, many Americans who have fallen on hard times find themselves without the guidance or resources needed to identify work opportunities. When you take into account the unaccounted millions who have lost hope and given up on looking for work altogether, the official unemployment rate skyrockets to over 11 percent.
These circumstances are unacceptable. We cannot sit idly by when people need help finding jobs. We must do more to lift people up and instill hope in those who need it most, so nobody falls through the cracks. Solutions exist, and we can make changes that lead to more hope, opportunity, and employment.
That’s why fourteen months ago, Republicans and Democrats agreed on commonsense reforms, which President Obama signed into law, to help more Americans get back to work and provide for their families.
Under those reforms, for the first time, States can apply for “waivers” to pay people for working or getting training, instead of simply receiving an unemployment check. However, instead of helping States test innovative ways to help folks get back to work, the Department of Labor issued 24 pages of grueling application requirements – longer than the application process under Obamacare – completely stifling State interest. And even though a senior DOL official testified before this subcommittee last April indicating that DOL would consider revising their requirements if no States applied, the Department has yet to make any changes to simplify things for States trying to help people find work.   
The 2012 reforms also now allow States to screen and test UI recipients for illegal drugs, starting with those who lost their last job due to drugs or who need to pass a drug test to land a new job. Such reforms ensure that those who break the law through substance abuse are not receiving benefits over law-abiding citizens truly in need of help. It is interesting that – while DOL was able to issue 24 pages of lengthy, demanding regulations for waiver applicants – the Department has yet to issue a single page of guidance to States that would allow them to screen for drug use.
In an additional move to help people find work, the 2012 reforms also ensure all long-term unemployment benefit recipients are actively engaged with the States to find work, and States must check on recipients to determine what services and activities they need to get back to work. As we will learn in today’s hearing, this type of meaningful interaction between States and recipients helps struggling individuals discover opportunities for success.
A year ago, this subcommittee met to discuss the early implementation of these commonsense reforms. But we left with more questions than answers, many of which are still outstanding.
Today we’ll check back in, hearing from the State and local officials and employers who have been directly involved in the implementation of these reforms. But mostly we are looking for guidance on what we can do to help more Americans collect paychecks instead of unemployment checks. All Americans deserve answers about how these policies are working and what else we should be doing to help.