If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lending him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
The Ohio General Assembly plans to pass legislation in the next 2-3 weeks to change Ohio's unemployment compensation system. There are many concepts on what the bill will look like floating around the Ohio Statehouse. However, the new legislation has not been introduced yet.
Background: Unemployment compensation provides support for working Ohioans who are laid off because the company had to reduce staff, or close altogether. It is designed (and works!) as a bridge between one job and the next for hard-working Ohioans.
Ohio's unemployment system is funded by the unemployment insurance tax paid by employers into a fund. However, the underlying solvency of Ohio's program isn't sufficient to handle a recession. During the Great Recession, Ohio had to borrow money from the federal government (as did other states) to cover the costs. Most states were able to pay off their debt quickly, but Ohio struggled. This required Ohio businesses to pay a higher cost until it was paid off. Earlier this year, Ohio used surplus funds to finish paying off the debt.
The Issue: Now that the immediate debt has been repaid, Ohio leaders should sit back and figure out a long-term fix to the underlying structural issues with Ohio's system. However, current proposals (Such as HB 394) threaten to reduce weeks of eligibility, benefit levels, or even those who are eligible for the support. As people of faith, we believe any fix should:
- Respect the dignity of Ohio's workers. An honest days work helps provide people that feeling of dignity. We should continue to invest in programs that re-connect people to meaningful work, including retraining and education programs. However, we need to make sure people have their immediate needs met, and unemployment insurance can help accomplish this.
- Ohioans need their daily bread: Cutting benefit levels - especially for those barely getting by - could increase the number of hungry Ohioans and lead to people choosing between rent, food, and medicine. The loss of any of these will make it much harder to find gainful employment.
- Recognize that Ohio has diversity. For every 100 job seekers in Ohio, there are 60 jobs available. However, in Appalachian communities, there are only 26 jobs available. It will take longer to find employment in certain communities and we need to build a system that takes that into account.
- Be responsible stewards of our resources: We need a trust fund that is solvent and able to handle a recession. A responsible proposal will bring people together representing businesses, workers, and others to come to a compromise. We cannot balance our budgets on the backs of those struggling to get by.