Policy Matters calls on lawmakers to fix unemployment compensation
Posted May 28, 2020 in Press Releases
Organization says policymakers should prioritize provision of benefits
Decisions made by state policymakers have contributed to the problems many Ohioans are experiencing accessing unemployment compensation (UC) benefits, but now policymakers can take steps to make benefits more accessible, Policy Matters Ohio Research Director Zach Schiller said in written testimony to the House Ways & Means Committee today.
With more than 1.2 million Ohioans filing unemployment claims since the COVID-19 shutdowns in March, longstanding problems with the state’s UC system are getting widespread attention from the public. The problems, Schiller said, stem in part from policymakers’ decisions to make the system less accessible – from doing away with a callback system that was once offered to imposing earnings requirements that are among the nation’s most stringent.
“Ohio policymakers have not made the provision of unemployment benefits a priority,” Schiller said. “Instead, too often they have made it harder for applicants to receive UC benefits. Such a system is not likely to be one that can dispense benefits as readily as it should when recession arrives.”
Schiller noted that the General Assembly had tightened work-search requirements, making receipt of benefits more difficult, while opportunities to modernize the state’s system to allow more jobless Ohioans to qualify were rejected. Other states took steps easing the ability of unemployed workers to apply for newly available federal benefits that Ohio did not.
Administration of the UC system wasn’t sufficiently funded, Schiller said, and an overhaul of the tax and benefit system under way at the time the pandemic struck was long overdue.
Only a little more than one-fifth of unemployed Ohioans received UC benefits before the pandemic, Schiller noted, and the state has persistently provided benefits to a smaller share of Ohioans without jobs than other states do. A new federal law requires that states report on steps they intend to take to increase the recipiency rate. “Given Ohio’s poor record on recipiency, it is especially important that ODJFS respond fully to this mandate and inform Ohioans how it is doing so,” Schiller said.
“No state was well equipped to process the huge increase in claims that came with the pandemic. However, Ohio’s leaders had not done enough to be prepared for a major upsurge in claims,” Schiller noted. He asked that the committee “reexamine Ohio’s overall approach to UC so that more jobless Ohioans can readily access the benefits they and their communities so badly need.”