State Se­nate ap­proves leg­is­la­tion to cut max­i­mum job­less-aid length

House Bill 1405 lops off four weeks, sets four-month cap

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - MICHAEL R. WICK­LINE

The Arkansas Se­nate on Mon­day hand­ily ap­proved leg­is­la­tion re­duc­ing from 20 to 16 the max­i­mum num­ber of weeks for which peo­ple are el­i­gi­ble for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

House Bill 1405 by Rep. Robin Lund­strum, R-Elm Springs, also re­duces from $12,000 to $10,000 the tax­able wage base of an em­ployee on which busi­nesses pay un­em­ploy­ment taxes.

The Se­nate’s 25-7 vote on HB1405 sent the bill to the House for con­sid­er­a­tion of a Se­nate amend­ment.

The state’s un­em­ploy­ment trust fund has about $520 mil­lion, Steve Gun­tharp, an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Work­force Ser­vices, said in an email. The Depart­ment of Work­force Ser­vices paid un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits to about 9,217 peo­ple dur­ing the week end­ing March 11, and the av­er­age weekly ben­e­fit is $261. Since the man­ner of cal­cu­lat­ing the weekly ben­e­fit is not changed by HB1405, there should not be an im­pact on the av­er­age weekly ben­e­fit amount, he said.

The bill would be­gin to re­turn the state’s un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fit struc­ture to what it was be­fore the 2009 re­ces­sion by re­duc­ing the max­i­mum time peo­ple are el­i­gi­ble for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, said Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Jim Hen­dren of Sul­phur Springs.

Peo­ple spend an av­er­age 13 weeks on un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, he said.

The leg­is­la­tion “also changes the abil­ity to dou­ble dip,” so if a worker gets two months of sev­er­ance pay­ments, he also wouldn’t re­ceive un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits dur­ing the same pe­riod, he said.

The state col­lected $309.6 mil­lion in un­em­ploy­ment taxes in cal­en­dar year 2016; col­lec­tions would fall by about $47 mil­lion un­der HB1405, Gun­tharp said in his email.

Hen­dren said the leg­is­la­tion is a pro-busi­ness and pro-eco­nomic growth bill that will help fill jobs.

But Sen. Linda Ch­ester­field, D-Lit­tle Rock, told sen­a­tors “we’ve got to stop stick­ing it to the lit­tle guy, and once more that’s pre­cisely what we are do­ing with this bill.

“We are now go­ing to cut back the amount of time that they have to find their job,” she said.

“There are em­ploy­ment deserts across the state of Arkansas.”

Hen­dren coun­tered that he’s an em­ployer who pays un­em­ploy­ment taxes and his re­duced costs would al­low him to raise wages, and he hopes busi­nesses will use the re­duce taxes to raise their em­ploy­ees’ salar­ies.

“We have cre­ated a lot of jobs and we need to con­tinue to cre­ate jobs,” he said.

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