program shows an "on" indicator when the rate of insured unemployment under the state law equals or exceeds 120% of the average of the rates for the corresponding thirteen week period in each of the preceding two years, and when the state's rate of insured unemployment equals or exceeds 4% for thirteen weeks. An "off" indicator is registered when, over a thirteen week period, either the 4% or the 120% criterion is not met. Alternatively, the state may elect to pay extended benefits when its rate of insured unemployment equals or exceeds 5% over a thirteen week period without regard to the 120% criterion. In states in which this option has been elected, there will be an "off" indicator when the 120%-4% indicators are no longer met or when the rate of insured unemployment is less than 5% for thirteen weeks, whichever occurs later. The extended benefit period begins in any state the third week after there is either a state or national "on" indicator and triggers off three weeks after a week where both state and national indicators are "off". Section 203(a)(2).
In regulations issued at the time the statute was enacted, the Secretary of Labor specified that the numerator used in determining the IUR was to include all claimants for unemployment benefits whether paid under regular state unemployment compensation laws, under special state laws providing for state financed additional benefits in periods of high unemployment, or under the Act itself.
On January 3, 1980, the Secretary of Labor promulgated a new regulation which redefined the numerator of the trigger fraction.
Effective February 3, 1980, all unemployed workers claiming "extended benefits" under the Act or "additional benefits" under state law would be excluded from the calculation of that rate of insured unemployment. As a result, the States of Maine and New Jersey have triggered off the extended benefits program. This has occurred despite an increase in the unemployment rate in New Jersey from 6.6% to 8.4% during the period that the extended benefits program was triggering off.
The plaintiffs claim that the regulation which redefined the IUR conflicts with the Act. As the Supreme Court has stated in a variety of contexts, a question of statutory construction should begin with an examination of the language of the statute itself. See, e.g., Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 568, 99 S. Ct. 2479, 2485, 61 L. Ed. 2d 82 (1979); Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 689-690, 99 S. Ct. 1946, 1953-54, 60 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979); International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Daniel, 439 U.S. 551, 564-565, 99 S. Ct. 790, 799-800, 58 L. Ed. 2d 808 (1979).
The challenged regulation purports to interpret the words "individuals filing claims for weeks of unemployment" found in § 203(f) in such a way that would exclude individuals who were filing certain types of claims. The statute, however, appears clear and unambiguous and does not provide for,
nor does it require, interpretation. An individual who files a claim for benefits under the extended benefit program is no less an individual filing a claim for unemployment than one who files a claim for unemployment under the "regular" scheme. "Reinterpretation" of the phrase in question is therefore a departure from the plain language of the Act. If the Act is to be amended, Congress, not the Secretary, must do the amending.
More significant here is the fact that in the regulations implementing the statute issued soon after its enactment, the Secretary of Labor interpreted the words "individuals filing claims . . ." to include those filing for extended and additional benefits. 36 Fed.Reg. 46, 49 (Jan. 5, 1971). Since that time, Congress has reexamined the Act several times and has several times adjusted the trigger mechanism. For example, Congress has suspended the operation of the 120% requirement.
In addition, Congress in 1976 added the provision which permitted the individual states to trigger on when the IUR reaches 5%, without regard to the 120% requirement.
On all these occasions the 1971 regulation was before the Congress. A regulation change could have affected the amendments Congress enacted. Thus, there is evidence that, while considering these changes, Congress relied upon the fact that "individuals filing claims for . . . unemployment" would include those who were receiving extended benefits and additional state benefits.
The Supreme Court has frequently held in cases such as this one arising under the Internal Revenue Code that:
(A) long-standing administrative interpretation, applying to a substantially reenacted statute, is deemed to have received congressional approval and has the effect of law.