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· July 18, 2011

Will Ohio leave $176 million for Ohio’s unemployed on the table?

Advocates for Ohio’s unemployed have recently criticized legislative leaders for failing to pass a bill to update Ohio’s unemployment insurance program, which would have enabled the state to receive an addition $176 million in federal stimulus funds. This is the larger of two distributions set aside for Ohio, but to be eligible, the state must first adopt two of four policy changes by August 22 to modernize its Unemployment Insurance laws. The four expanded coverage options are:
  • Eligibility for part-time workers
  • Benefits for leaving work due to domestic violence or other compelling family reasons
  • 26 weeks of pay while enrolled in approved training
  • Minimum dependent payment of $15 per week up to $50
GOP leadership refused to take up a measure, choosing instead to go home for the summer without action. The money – $176 million – could be spent on providing benefits to unemployed workers, allowing them to stay in their homes and support their families while looking for work. Why did the General Assembly leave workers hanging? According to Gongwer, Senate President Niehaus expressed concern about cost:
“We were never able to get an answer as to how much this would cost in the long run,” he told reporters after session. “The question became: if we take $176 million now, how much will be obligated to pay out for the next 10, 20, 30 years? And no one could answer that question, so we chose to pass.”
It really begs the question: whom did he ask? Innovation Ohio obtained a 2009 memo from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that showed by phasing-in two of the four policy changes (minimum dependent payments and 26 weeks of training), the state could actually save money in the long run. So if cost is not the real issue, we have to wonder: is this really part of an anti-worker, anti-middle class agenda, consistent with other policies we have seen from this General Assembly and Administration? More money for unemployed Ohioans, and savings for Ohio’s Unemployment system. It’s really a no-brainer.

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