Unemployment Benefits – Under a Legislative Microscope

There have been bills filed that will hurt our most economically vulnerable middle class Arkansas families, those who have been laid off from their jobs and are receiving or applying for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to temporarily meet basic needs. Multiple bills have been filed that would make it harder for hard working, middle class families to apply for and receive unemployment benefits in a timely manner (if at all in some cases).

HB1054 would require the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to conduct biweekly interviews with individuals receiving unemployment benefits in order to discuss/review the individual’s efforts in finding work for the previous two weeks and to plan their work search for the upcoming two weeks. HB1054 also allows that DWS can consider both attendance and participation in these biweekly meetings when determining an individual’s unemployment benefits eligibility.

Not one state requires this kind of check in for UI recipients. In order make this work, DWS would have to hire additional case workers (lots of them). Also, these interviews could easily eat up the benefits an individual receives for traveling to and from the interviews, especially for people in rural areas.

HB1057 would require that employees contribute .5% of their wages to the unemployment compensation fund.

Currently, New Jersey requires employees to contribute to this fund. Many workers would pay into this system but would never access it. And low-income workers rarely are eligible for the benefits. Also, as this bill is written right now, the tax would be applied to a person’s entire wage. Most employers don’t pay taxes on the entire wage of their employees.

HB1058 would decrease the weekly benefit amount for individuals receiving unemployment benefits from 66 2/3% of the state average weekly wage to 55% of the state average weekly wage.

This bill will not have much impact on recipients of UI benefits as it stands now. In the third quarter of 2010, Arkansas’ average benefit was 47% of the state’s average weekly wage. In the future, if the benefit is raised this new ceiling could become a problem.

SB209 would require UI recipients without a high school diploma or a GED to take adult education courses toward passing the GED test will receiving benefits.

The federal regulations on UI benefits (in order for a state to receive administrative grant money) require that benefits be paid in a timely manner. This requirement, depending on how it would be verified, would interfere with prompt payment. Also, the capacity of adult education programs for individuals seeking a GED is limited. This regulation would severely stretch the system.