Legislators Consider New Unemployment Compensation Bill

A new bill aimed at fixing Ohio’s broken Unemployment Compensation Fund has been introduced in the State House.

The Columbus Dispatch reported State Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) introduced House Bill 382 in October, which would require workers to individually contribute to the benefit system, reduce benefits for the unemployed and increase the tax paid by employers into the fund.

Matt Szollosi, Executive Director of ACT Ohio, is pictured testifying against an Unemployment Compensation Fund bill in Dec. 2016.

Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio Executive Director Matt Szollosi represented the construction industry during the talks with business leaders in an attempt to reach a better solution to the funding issue. This bill represents a more preferable starting point for discussion than the previous attempts to reform the unemployment compensation fund, he said.

While it is a step in the right direction, Szollosi said ACT Ohio is against the bill as it currently stands.

“Only 24 percent of Ohio’s unemployed workers qualify for benefits under current law – there is no justifiable reason to make it harder or to minimize benefits for those who do,” he said.

Under the proposed bill, employees will be charged premiums beginning in 2019. The new premiums are expected to raise an estimated $125 million, which would equal roughly 10 percent of the unemployment taxes paid by employers.

HB 382 would raise the wage base on which employers pay tax from $9,500 to $11,000, freeze benefit levels for the unemployed for 10 years, which means no cost of living increases, and reduce the amount of weeks of available benefits from 26 to 24, with some exceptions.

Szollosi made it clear ACT Ohio is not in favor of reducing unemployment benefits, as such actions have the potential to harm the construction industry, which is already suffering from a lack of skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen.

“A number of changes need to be made to improve the bill,” said Szollosi. “The position advanced by ACT Ohio is unchanged: no reductions from the current 26 weeks; no cuts to dependency or other key benefits that help sustain unemployed workers when times get tough.”

There is also a proposed companion bill that would create a bond issue for voters to approve that would allow Ohio to issue debt to raise money if the unemployment fund becomes insolvent, instead of again borrowing from the federal government as they did during the Great Recession.

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