Take A Stand Against Potential Unemployment Compensation Benefit Cuts
I’m a coal miner’s daughter. In the boom years, we were lucky enough to take a summer vacation. We’d drive to Virginia Beach and spend a few days getting sunburnt and eating bologna sandwiches in the sand. It was great and we were fortunate, but those memories also hold a nugget of anxiety because miner’s holiday seemed to always start with threats and rumors of layoffs upon return. Christmas break was often the same and the message was clear: don’t enjoy this too much ‘cause there might not be work to come back to. Mom would worry whether we were spending too much, if we should cut it all short. I worried that my parents worried. It was a cloud hanging over our head. A specter.
Job loss is a terribly frightening experience. Families are spun into crisis. It could mean the loss of everything they’ve worked to build. Without work, foreclosure, repossession, and utility cut-offs suddenly become very possible. The insecurity created by the mere rumor of a layoff was intense enough to keep my family on edge and create a memory more than thirty years old. That is why I’m fighting so hard to protect Ohio’s unemployment compensation system.
Earlier this month I testified at the statehouse and asked the Joint Committee on Unemployment Compensation reform to protect the number of weeks unemployed workers can claim benefits. Legislation that was called a top-priority by House and Senate leadership would reduce weeks from 26 to as low as 12. Such a change would make our unemployment insurance system one of the weakest in the nation. Only nine states offer less than the national standard of 26 weeks. These cuts have not resulted in higher numbers of people working, but they do lead to more people leaving the labor force. Ohio is already struggling to bring back the 226,000 workers who have dropped out of our labor market since the start of the 2007 recession.
Cuts also mean fewer unemployed workers get the benefits they need to make ends meet while looking for a new job. After Michigan cut benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, a proposal that is getting active consideration at the Statehouse now because the plan to cut the number even more ran into such strong opposition, the share of unemployed workers who received benefits dropped to a historic low. Unemployment coverage in Ohio is already among the worst in the nation, as only about 23 of every 100 unemployed workers get benefits. This is partly because the state requires workers to make $243 a week averaged over at least 20 weeks, to qualify. A minimum-wage worker working less than 30 hours a week all year is not eligible for benefits if she or he is laid off.
If Ohio had cut weeks to 20 last year, nearly 70,000 workers and their families would have lost benefits before they found work. We don’t need policies that push us further in the wrong direction. That’s why we created a reform plan that would increase the number of low-wage workers who are eligible for unemployment, make our system solvent, and do so without cutting benefits. You can read about our plan, and share it with others by clicking here.
As I’m writing, more than a thousand workers at the Lordstown GM plant are bracing for indefinite layoffs. The anxieties I felt as a child are being made real in these families tonight. Ohio is not the kind of state that kicks the ladder down when people are trying to climb up. We need to make sure the policymakers remember this when they address unemployment solvency.
Over the coming weeks, Policy Matters Ohio will continue to release videos documenting how workers across the state have dealt with job loss. So far, we have spotlighted the testimonials from Teresa Hartley, Julie Barrett, Steve Gillian and Angela Ballou but there are still so many stories out there.
Please share these stories – and your own – so others know what’s at stake. What would you have lost if you only had 12 or 20 weeks of benefits? What have you lost because you don’t earn enough to get covered? Contact our outreach coordinator and together we can add your voice to the chorus of working Ohioans who are ready to take a stand for unemployment compensation benefits.
This number will connect you to your legislator. Just call 1-614-466-3357.
Don’t sit this out. Your voice matters.
-- Hannah Halbert