Laid-off seniors to get help soon

Columbus Dispatch - October 31, 2007
   

House passes bill to end cuts to unemployment
By Catherine Candisky

The Columbus Dispatch

It’s an amazing turn of events for a proposal that has lingered in the legislature for more than a year and a half.

The House unanimously approved a bill yesterday to make senior citizens eligible for full unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs.

In fact, lawmakers added language to the bill to make it effective immediately upon the signature of Gov. Ted Strickland, avoiding the standard 90-day wait.

The Senate, which unanimously passed the bill in May, is expected to concur today with additions made in the House and send the bill to the governor.

“It’s an issue I’m supportive of and look forward to signing the bill,” said Strickland, who put aside earlier reservations about the proposal.

Welcome to the fast track.

Senate Bill 116, by Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, will abolish Ohio’s so-called Social Security offset, a move that senior citizens and their advocates have sought for years.

Ohio is the only state in the nation where 100 percent of a person’s Social Security is subtracted from his or her unemployment compensation. As a result, senior citizens who lose their jobs receive reduced unemployment benefits, and often none at all.

“Ohio’s current unemployment compensation system is blatantly unfair to low-income seniors who must continue to work after retirement age in order to stay financially afloat,” Padgett said.

“… Employers already make contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Program on their employees’ behalf regardless of their age, so why should Ohio’s seniors not be receiving the same benefit as their younger co-workers?”

Philip E. Cole, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, said seniors who are working at the same time they are collecting Social Security are doing so because they need the money — and losing a job is as hard for them as it is a younger person.

“When the state says to them, ‘We will deny you what should be yours because you are older,’ the state only makes their lives harder,” he said.

Ohio is poised to join 41 other states that allow Social Security recipients to collect full unemployment benefits. Eight states have a 50 percent offset, deducting half of a person’s Social Security from his or her unemployment compensation.

“It is time for Ohio to move in this direction. Senior citizens deserve no less,” Rep. Larry L. Flowers, R-Canal Winchester, told his colleagues before the House vote.

Rep. Michael J. Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat who sought the “emergency clause,” said it will make the bill effective immediately and ensure that unemployment benefits are restored before the holidays.

“Otherwise, seniors won’t be eligible before the end of January,” he said.

Thousands of senior citizens will benefit from the legislation, noted Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland research group.

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, as many as 4,600 seniors will qualify for benefits. The estimated cost of those unemployment claims range from $12.4 million to $24.8 million a year.

The balance of Ohio’s unemployment compensation fund is $548 million.

Despite the delays, the proposal had no organized opposition, although the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern about the effect the legislation will have on the unemployment compensation fund.

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