Last year, Republican State Representative Barbara Sears introduced a bill (HB394) aimed at making Ohio’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund solvent again after it took a beating during the recession. The bill was an extreme, right wing, anti-worker wish list, written with the help of business groups and without input from labor
HB394 dramatically reduced the length of time a worker collects benefits while unemployed, eliminated bonus pay for workers with dependents, added mandatory drug testing for unemployed workers, all while leaving employers paying the same as they have been since 1995, only instituting a modest increase if a downturn drains the trust fund.
Hearings for HB394 resulted in an outcry from dozens of opponents, including organized labor, unemployed workers and poverty advocates. The business groups that fought for the law never spoke to defend it in committee. Republicans shelved the bill.
This fall, a new process began to gather input from all sides, again dominated by advocates for workers. This time, advocates put forward a plan to make the fund solvent through a combination of employer premium increases (remember, they haven’t gone up since 1995) and a new, small fee on workers. Representatives from labor testified they could live with this option.
But last week, Speaker Rosenberger told reporters a new version of HB394 would pass during the lame duck session, and that it would balance employer increases with benefit cuts.
In other words, House Republicans have opted not to ask employed workers and businesses to pay more, but instead plan to fund the system partially through reducing aid to out-of-work Ohioans. The obvious question is why.
Next week changes to the bill will be unveiled in the House Insurance Committee, and we will see just how bad it is. In the meantime, call (614) 466-3357 to urge your representative to oppose any bill that cuts benefits for unemployed workers.