By BRIAN TUMULTY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - The maximum time New Yorkers will be able to get unemployment benefits will be trimmed from 93 weeks to 63 weeks under legislation Congress passed Friday.
But the change won't be phased in until August under the compromise reached between the House and Senate on the legislation extending a payroll tax cut.
House Republicans had proposed cutting the maximum eligibility for jobless benefits to 59 weeks, from the current maximum of 99 weeks in states with high unemployment.
"It gives unemployed workers a far better deal than the House passed last December and it's a far better deal than if no agreement had been reached,'' said Chad Stone, chief economist for the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Had there been no deal, most federally provided long-term unemployment benefits would have ended starting March 1.
That would have impacted an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers, according to Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Department of Labor.
The state covers the first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance at a maximum weekly rate of $405, followed by several tiers of federal benefits triggered by the state's jobless rate.
New York's 8-percent unemployment rate is well below the double-digit rates in some other states.
New York Republican Reps. Tom Reed of Corning and Nan Hayworth of Bedford, Westchester County, served on the team that negotiated the deal on the legislation. Both favored reducing the maximum time jobless benefits are available.
"We are moving back to a much more reasonable program, in my mind,'' said Reed.
"It's a vast improvement over a maximum of 99 weeks,'' Hayworth said.
Both lawmakers also supported a failed attempt by House Republicans to require unemployment recipients who don't have a high school diploma to take GED classes. And they supported a partially successful effort to allow states to conduct drug screening on applicants for jobless benefits.
States will be allowed to screen recipients who may have lost a job because of a drug problem or who are applying for jobs where drug screening or testing is routinely used on all applicants.
New York is still reviewing that provision, according to the state Labor Department spokesman.