Unemployment comp bill would cover nearly 600,000 Ohioans
Posted October 18, 2021 in Press Releases
U.S. Senate measure would replace the state’s stringent earnings test
A bill now pending in the U.S. Senate could allow nearly 600,000 Ohioans who are not currently eligible to qualify for unemployment compensation (UC) benefits if they are laid off.
That is a key finding of a report Policy Matters Ohio issued today. It reviewed a bill introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Michael Bennet of Colorado, which would take several steps to strengthen the nation’s UC system. It would expand eligibility by lowering the threshold for how much a working person in Ohio must be paid to qualify for benefits. Individuals would need to be paid at least $1,500 in a year and $1,000 in at least one quarter during the year. Bill sponsors offered it to be included in the Build Back Better package through budget reconciliation as the Wyden Amendment.
“That would be especially beneficial in Ohio because policymakers have set a highly stringent pay threshold to qualify for benefits, making it harder to qualify than in all but a handful of states,” said Michael Shields, Policy Matters researcher and co-author of the study. “Congress should include the plan in the budget reconciliation package now being considered or pass it as a stand-alone bill.”
The report found that the current Ohio pay threshold excludes more than 15% of all workers — nearly 750,000 Ohioans — from unemployment compensation if they lose their job. Under Ohio law, a worker must earn an average of 27.5% of the state average weekly wage over at least 20 weeks to qualify for benefits. “A minimum-wage worker employed 31 hours a week won’t qualify for benefits,” said Zach Schiller, Policy Matters research director and also a co-author.
Based on census survey data, Policy Matters estimates that 591,000 Ohio workers who wouldn’t currently qualify for benefits because they aren’t paid enough would be covered under the Wyden amendment. It would bolster coverage for women and Black workers, who are more likely to be paid low wages and fall below the earnings test, and for more workers in some of the industries hardest-hit by COVID-19, such as the accommodation and food service industry. Nearly three-quarters of workers in that industry now excluded from benefits would become covered.
“Many of the people excluded because of Ohio’s high pay threshold are highly connected to the workforce,” Shields said. “Workers who would be brought in under the Wyden amendment worked an average of 26 hours per week for 37 weeks in 2019. Moreover, the cost of adding such coverage would not be large, since this is a low-wage group and benefits for them are half of previous wages.”
The amendment also includes a number of other reforms to the UC system. “Congress needs to move this measure forward,” Schiller said.