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Ohio newspapers pan unemployment compensation bill

December 22, 2015

Ohio newspapers pan unemployment compensation bill

December 22, 2015

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Since the introduction of Ohio House Bill 394, the bill that would slash unemployment benefits and make it harder to get them, two dozen witnesses have opposed it in oral or written testimony to the House Insurance Committee. That has given its backers pause, at least to the point that the committee – and the House – did not act on it this year.

But the opposition goes beyond the health and human service advocates, the labor unions, the anti-poverty organizations, the civil libertarians and others who have outlined the numerous defects in the bill.

Eight newspapers have run editorials about House Bill 394, and all of them have found it wanting. “Its ideas for needed change primarily include slashing benefits to jobless workers and making it harder to receive even that reduced compensation, without permanently solving the system’s problems,” said the Toledo Blade. “That’s not reform.”

Five newspapers in the Gannett chain – the Chillicothe Gazette, the Coshocton Tribune, the Mansfield News Journal, the Newark Advocate, and the Zanesville Times Recorder  -- asked lawmakers to “rethink” the bill. They noted that, “If House Bill 394 is adopted, at a pen stroke Ohio’s unemployment benefits program would have one of the shortest payout periods in the nation.”

Indeed, the bill would limit maximum benefits to between 12 and 20 weeks, down from the current 26. Right now, our benefits would be capped at 12 weeks. That would leave Ohio with the shortest period in the country, tied only with North Carolina.

The Plain Dealer summarized the situation well: “The good news is that the Ohio General Assembly has slowed action on House Bill 394, a purported reform of Ohio's unemployment compensation system. The bad news is that HB 394, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Sears, a suburban Toledo Republican, is seriously out of balance, using reform to hurt unemployed Ohioans while doing little to address structural problems.”

The Akron Beacon Journal got at one of the bill’s key failings. “… it is crucial to make an accurate assessment of the problem,” it said. “That involves recognizing the imbalance is not due to excessive benefits for those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Yet that is the signal the Sears bill sends: Benefits must be curbed to ensure the system is structurally sound.”

In fact, despite the 41 percent cut in benefits called for in the bill, it wouldn’t result in the state coming anywhere near the bill’s own solvency target. And even then, it relies on the unrealistic assumption that there won’t be another recession for another 10 years.

The Blade concluded: “Fixing the state’s unemployment insurance system requires a balanced, equitable approach, and the participation of employers as well as employees. Representative Sears’ bill does not do that, and should not become law.”

-- Zach Schiller

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Zach is Policy Matters research director.



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