Stimulus Unemployment Benefits Update: VA, FL, ME, OH, IN…
Updates on how states’ legislators are moving on the UE benefits money in the stimulus:
…Ohio is one of 13 states plus the District of Columbia that is missing out on federal stimulus funding for extended unemployment benefits. State legislators would have to make a change in the law to make those who have reached the end of their already-extended unemployment benefits eligible for up to 20 more weeks of benefits.
… A provision in the stimulus bill would cover the extension of benefits beyond the first phase of 26 weeks and the second phase of 33 weeks, but that provision kicks in only for states that average more than 6.5 percent unemployment in a three-month period. Those states would receive funding for 13 weeks of benefits, and if the rate clears 8.0 percent for a three-month period, another 7 weeks are available.
…, 16 states and Puerto Rico already qualify for the extended benefits program under one of the program’s provisions: Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Alaska, Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington qualify for 13 weeks of benefits.
Oregon and Rhode Island already qualify for 20 weeks of extended benefits. As a result, about 405,000 workers in those states will qualify for extended benefits when their EUC benefits expire between now and June.
States that would have to change law to allow workers to receive the extended benefits besides Ohio are: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, and Tennessee.
…a group of Republican lawmakers is urging the state to reject $125 million in federal money, saying it would mean higher taxes for businesses once the stimulus money is exhausted.
For the state to receive its full allotment, however, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly must change state law, which provides some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the country. Kaine has not taken a position on the issue, but several Democratic lawmakers said they are gearing up to support the changes, which they view as essential for helping laid-off workers.
Virginia, which recorded a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in January, is already eligible for $62.5 million in federal job benefits money, about one-third of its total allotment. To be eligible for the other two-thirds, the state would have to provide coverage to at least two of four groups of unemployed people: those only available to work part time; workers who left their jobs for compelling family reasons such as domestic violence, a spouse moving to take another job or caring for a sick child; workers with dependent children; and workers who need benefits extended through certain kinds of job retraining.
House Republican leaders and officials with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said that such an expansion would upend the letter and spirit of the state’s unemployment insurance system. …”Our jobless benefits system is an insurance program, not an entitlement,” said Del. Samuel A. Nixon (R-Chesterfield), chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “This isn’t free money. This is money that we’ll have to pay for by way of higher taxes down the line.”
…t the political situation is somewhat complicated in Virginia, with Kaine, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, possibly squaring off with the Republican-led House of Delegates, a fiscally conservative body that has long opposed fundamental changes to laws that extend such benefits.
To draw down the federal money, Kaine would have to amend a bill that he is reviewing, or insert changes into the state budget. Lawmakers would then have to vote on those changes when they return to Richmond for their regularly scheduled one-day session April 8.
Florida is at risk of forfeiting more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds unless it makes a controversial change in state law that widens the pool of people receiving extended unemployment benefits. The problem is that the federal offer for aid comes at a price that many in the Legislature are balking at.
If the state makes the statutory change, it means about 250,000 Floridians could become eligible for extended benefits, with the federal government picking up most of the estimated $776 million cost through December 2009. But since state agencies and local governments account for about 6 percent of benefit costs, they would be on the hook to pay about $71 million between now and June 30, 2010. Moreover, the federal stimulus only runs through the end of the year.
Senate Republicans, led by Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, don’t want to leave the federal money on the table, given Florida’s rising unemployment picture. The state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent for January and is expected to be higher when February numbers are released on Friday.
However, top House Republicans are urging their membership to reject the federal funding. On Monday, the leadership sent an e-mail to members telling them how to respond to constituents upset that the state would turn down more than $1 billion in aid. The e-mail said the “strings” attached to the federal funds would be a hardship for Florida companies that pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.
“These higher costs on businesses that will directly pay the increased taxes, will force companies to layoff workers, potentially causing more Floridians to lose their jobs,” the e-mail read. “As you can see, utilizing the federal money for unemployment compensation is not a silver bullet.”
Mainers will not be eligible for stimulus unemployment benefits unless lawmakers take action.
The economic stimulus package lets states with high unemployment rates give up to 20 weeks of extended federal benefits to people who are all out of options.Early estimates from the state Department of Labor indicate Mainers could be missing out on up to $50 million in federal assistance, News 8′s Danielle Strauss reported.State Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the only problem is a difference in language, and the department is already looking for ways to change it.”It’s the number that is being used to trigger that benefit. We have an insured unemployment rate that we used, and in the Recovery Act, they look at a total unemployment rate. So, it is just a different calculation,” she said.
“Normally, someone is eligible for about 26 weeks worth of benefits. Because of the various extended benefit programs that our out there now, someone currently is eligible for up to 59 weeks of unemployment. What this does would extend those benefits either and additional 13 weeks or 20 weeks depending on how high our unemployment rate goes,” Fortman said.Fortman said Gov. John Baldacci already asked the department to draft legislation.
Indiana (Inside Indiana Business):
Indiana Senators today voted 30 to 19 to move a plan to fix the state’s bankrupt jobless fund. The Senate passed bill says “no” to massive expansions required for using $148 million in federal stimulus monies, but “yes” to maintaining state-funded benefits for unemployed Hoosiers seeking re-training…
…Indiana’s unemployment insurance trust, funded by employer-paid premiums, is currently insolvent. In 2008, it paid out $1 billion in benefits while taking in $579 million in revenues. Projections for 2009 show benefits will top $1.3 billion, with revenues of about $550 million.
Thirty states have UI funds already insolvent or at the risk of insolvency, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. At least 14 states, including Indiana, have this year used federal loans totaling $5 billion in order to continue providing unemployment benefits.
“No” To Federal Stimulus Liberalization
State senators agreed with Hershman and rejected long-term obligations and financial burdens left after federal stimulus monies would be exhausted. Hershman warned federal funds often come with strings attached, and in this case, would permanently liberalize what are already seen as generous UI benefits when compared to other states. Based on average income, Indiana ranked third in 2008 for replacing lost wages with state unemployment benefits.
Hershman cautioned against the use of temporary stimulus money, because after two years, the state would again face premium hikes or benefit cuts. Federal guidelines for receiving the money would swell the number of those eligible for government benefits by 40 percent. Seven states have already rejected the stimulus monies for their unemployment funds. Indiana is on a growing list of states leaning against accepting the funds for this purpose.
Hershman noted that state leaders nationwide are opposed to expanding benefits to teen-agers who leave after-school jobs, parents whose children may contract Chicken Pox or another common illness, and those displaced when a spouse applies for and accepts a more lucrative job elsewhere.
“Yes” To Retraining, Real Job Searches
Kenley said the plan would maintain state funded jobless benefits for 26 weeks, if unemployed Hoosiers participate in state-approved job training and re-training. Otherwise benefits would be reduced over time.
Unemployment benefit recipients would also be required to actually “apply” for jobs each week under Hershman’s proposed bill, not to simply “look” for employment as state law now stipulates, Kenley said.