State Aid Difficult To Get

Akron Beacon Journal - October 7, 2002

Ohio rules for unemployment rank among most restrictive in nation
By Doug Oplinger, Stephen Dyer and Dennis J. Willard

The Akron Beacon Journal

Ohio is hard on its unemployed and low-income families.

Women, most often, are the victims.

Teresa Day of Rootstown is an example.

She has two young children and is fighting to keep her factory job — or collect unemployment. Day says she was earning more than $42,000 a year after taxes, thanks to several hours of overtime each week.

On orders from her employer, she went to a clinic for a mandatory drug test. While there, she was told she failed. She says she immediately challenged the results, took another test at the same clinic on the same day — at her expense — and passed.

A third test, taken later, again was negative, she said.

The company dismissed her based on the first test. And Ohio law says that if someone is fired for a legitimate reason — including the use of drugs — he or she can be denied unemployment benefits, no matter how much they made or how long they worked.

As part of its monthlong examination of issues in Ohio, the Akron Beacon Journal found that the state is kind to business and maintains some of the lowest tax rates in the nation.

In 2000, Ohio ranked 33rd for the amount of unemployment insurance it collected from employee payrolls, according to economic researcher Zach Schiller at Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland research organization.

The state gave employers a big break in the 1990s when the economy was good and the unemployment insurance fund experienced investment profits.

Until recently, Ohio collected no employment taxes from about 35,000 businesses and charged the lowest rates in 30 years, Schiller said.

Meanwhile, the state makes it hard for those who lose their jobs — particularly those with low incomes — to receive benefits.

“Ohio is one of only five states in the country in which a worker making minimum wage working all year for 20 hours a week would not be eligible for any unemployment benefits,” Schiller said in a report last year. A person earning minimum wage can work four days a week for years and never qualify, he said.

The jobless and the poor are major elements in the state’s budget and its quality of life. They are important issues for state government.

Yet candidates don’t often talk about the poor, who are among the least educated and least likely to vote.

Gov. Bob Taft and his challenger, Tim Hagan, instead focus on attracting jobs to Ohio.

Ohio’s unemployment rate in August was 5.5 percent, up from 4.4 percent a year earlier but still lower than the U.S. rate of 5.7 percent. Ohio ranks 22nd for the percentage of people in poverty.

Schiller’s study showed that part-timers, who account for about one in every five Ohio workers, are among those likely to be denied jobless benefits. The majority of part-timers are women, he said.

A U.S. General Accounting Office study said it is those low-income workers who need the most assistance. The GAO also said Ohio has some of the most restrictive rules for qualifying.

For example, a mother who works during the day while her young child is at school would be denied unemployment benefits if her employer moved her to a night shift and she no longer could care for her child.

Peggy Prock of Ravenna is another mother in a tough situation.

She has three children, receives child support and had a good job as a plant shipping supervisor, earning about $40,000 a year. Her employer lost a major contract, was downsizing and was probably going to close.

She found another job making similar wages, but to her surprise, found that it required heavy lifting she was unable to do. She quit.

Her previous employer closed. She has been bouncing from one temporary job to another, earning minimum wage and no benefits.

If she had stayed with her first employer through the shutdown, she would have been eligible for unemployment. Because she tried to find a job to support herself and her children — and quit because of her inability to do the job — she is not eligible for unemployment.

Welfare next option

When workers lose their jobs and unemployment benefits expire — or they don’t qualify — their next source of help is welfare.

Ohio’s legislature and governor approved welfare reform beginning in 1992, limiting the poor to a lifetime maximum of three years of benefits. They still are eligible for food stamps, Medicaid and job training.

The change — and an improved economy — reduced the number of recipients from a record 749,000 in 1992 to about 200,000 earlier this year.
The welfare and unemployment offices often refer the jobless to temporary work agencies, where workers are moved from one job to another, often at minimum wage. They never earn enough to qualify for jobless pay if they are laid off.
A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study in 2001 showed that Ohio welfare recipients ranked 32nd in their ability to maintain a job and 35th in the amount of money they earned while employed. Their average income was about 59 percent of the poverty rate.
Meanwhile, Ohio is using the savings from cutting welfare to help businesses.
In northwest Ohio, commercial farmers who rely on migrant workers to pick tomatoes and pickles received a boost from money that is for needy families.
Migrant workers weren’t inclined to come to Ohio because the farmers weren’t offering competitive wages, according to a state report. So, welfare money was used to supplement the commercial farmers’ wages — $300 a month for workers with children — to keep migrants in Ohio long enough to work the fields.

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