Home Money Ohio Republican representative introduces legislation to reduce unemployment benefits

Ohio Republican representative introduces legislation to reduce unemployment benefits

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A bill proposed in the Ohio House of Representatives on Nov. 9 would change the way the unemployment benefit system operates in Ohio, cutting benefits for those currently receiving them and changing the rules in the application process.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Rep. Barbara Sears, R-Monclova Township, aims to help repay the $775 million debt that Ohio must repay to the federal government by 2017.

HB 394 would introduce a sliding scale to determine the length that benefits could be received by unemployed Ohioans. If the level of unemployment in the state reached or passed 9 percent, unemployment benefits could be collected for 20 weeks.

The current maximum in the state is 26 weeks, but Sears added that the legislation would not prevent an increased number of weeks offered by the federal government at any point. If the rate is at 5.5 percent or lower, benefits could be collected for a maximum of 12 weeks.

Those who apply for unemployment benefits would no longer receive financial assistance for any dependents. It also reduces the maximum amount available to be claimed per month. Social Security payments will be deducted from any potential unemployment benefits, if HB 394 passes.

“It also looks at the benefit side, directly to the employee, to bring it back up to date to where unemployment benefits really should be, but also then build a sliding scale to recognize that there are more opportunities when the unemployment level is low,” Sears said. “And we already have, on average, the vast majority of folks in Ohio are returning to work within 14 weeks. It recognizes that we are doing a better job getting the largest number of folks back to work.”

According to the bill, individuals would be barred from receiving benefits from the state if they were fired from their job for failing a drug test, violating an employee handbook, not performing a job to an employer’s expectation, quitting without just cause, refusing any offer of employment or participating in an employer lockout.

But opponents of Sears’ proposal say the bill unfairly stereotypes and criminalizes those seeking benefits by requiring drug testing. In a press release, Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, rejected the limitations put on unemployed Ohioans.

“There is absolutely nothing to gain from creating additional barriers for people who need unemployment compensation,” Daniels said. “Instead of providing constructive avenues for those needing help, this unnecessary legislation simply pushes worn-out stereotypes of people seeking public benefits. This bill will increase bureaucracy, waste resources, and needlessly make unemployment benefits even harder to acquire.”

Sears said the proposed changes are not unfair, but makes sure that the state would be prepared in the event of another recession, like the one the country experienced in 2008. She added she’d been working in the area of unemployment benefit reformation since 2008 but waited to propose HB 394 until other measures, like Medicaid expansion and economic development, were addressed.

With the unemployment level in Ohio below the national average for the past 22 months, Sears said now was the right time to make changes to the unemployment system.

In addition to the elements that change what benefits the unemployed can apply for and receive, HB 394 also makes changes on the employer side of the employment world. On that side, Sears said the legislation would change the way employers are taxed. According to Sears, employers have been penalized since 2004 in state taxes and have been penalized for the past five years by the federal government due to debt and a system-wide structural imbalance.

“(HB 394) looks at the increasing revenue on the employer side to the point where we can eliminate the penalties that they are receiving and generate enough revenue to get our reserve fund where it needs to be so we’re prepared to go into the next downturn in the economy,” Sears said.

Sears reminded opponents that unemployment benefits are only temporary, and argued her plan would keep Ohio fiscally sound in the future.

“It’s an insurance plan, and it needs to be independently structurally sound, meaning that only employers should be paying for this benefit,” Sears added. “In Ohio, only the employers pay, and it has to be a structurally sound plan. We have to get a reserve that allows us to go to the next recession without having to borrow or be penalized by the federal government.”

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