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Ohio House Bill could reduce unemployment benefits

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An Ohio House bill introduced in November could make changes to unemployment benefits and make it more difficult to receive benefits.

House Bill 394, introduced by Rep. Barbara R. Sears, R-Monclova Township, would reduce the number of weeks someone can be on unemployment. It would also reduce dependency, freeze automatic increases for unemployment compensation benefits and abolish the Unemployment Compensation Advisory Council, which coordinates reemployment services, reviews compensation legislation and gives recommendations to laws to the governor, the Ohio General Assembly and the director of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“While the state is projected to pay off the loan by the end of 2017, it is imperative we reform our unemployment compensation system so that the trust fund has a positive balance, especially if the nation suffers from another recession,” Sears said in a press release.

Mark Davis, co-chair of Advocates for Ohio’s Future, does not think HB 394 is right for Ohio.

We believe that a broad-based group of stakeholders needs to be convened,” Davis said. “That group would reach consensus on a long term and balanced approach to achieving solvency (the ability to pay debts) with the Unemployment Insurance Compensation fund that protects all of Ohio’s workers.”

In the U.S., the unemployment rate measures the number of people who are actively looking for a job but cannot find one. Currently, people can receive 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in Ohio. With this legislation, they would only receive between 12 and 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate. Twelve weeks of unemployment is the least amount of time the unemployed can be offered benefits.

Unemployment Insurance programs are important for Americans because they help America’s economy, Rhonda Burke, a worker in Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor, said.

“In addition to helping workers and their families, the Unemployment Insurance programs play a key role in helping businesses, communities and the nation’s economy,” Burke said. “It was created in 1935 in response to the Great Depression, when millions of people lost jobs. These people couldn’t buy goods or services, which contributed to more layoffs.”

Unemployment Insurance programs are used to to support people who are not currently working.

Since then, the program has continued to help cushion the impact of economic downturns and bring economic stability to communities, states, and the nation by providing temporary income support for laid-off workers,” Burke said.

Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, believes the unemployment compensation bill is flawed.

“This bill is not a balanced package; all of the savings come from unemployed workers. It is not a true solvency package, as it comes nowhere near achieving its own solvency goal,” Schiller said while testifying to the House Insurance Committee. “It misdiagnosed the problem, which is mostly a result of tax levels that have been set too low. And its extreme reductions in benefits and access to benefits would take Ohio well outside the mainstream.”

In December 2015, the nationwide average length of unemployment benefits was 27.6 weeks according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The legislation is still in the Ohio House of Representatives, where it was introduced.

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