COLUMBUS, Ohio — Groups across the Buckeye State are worried Ohio is minimizing its safety net for low-income Ohioans.
Recent proposals at the Statehouse look to limit unemployment benefits, and cut back temporary assistance dollars that go toward families in need. Lawmakers said Ohio's unemployment compensation fund is under-funded, and they are looking for ways to keep as much money in the unemployment fund as possible.
"My goal, ultimately long term, will be to lower the amount of money that goes into unemployment," State Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester, said. "That will free dollars up for employers to grow their businesses, hire more employees, and to put Ohio back to work."
Lang is sponsoring the legislation that looks to cut back on unemployment benefits. The bill aims to cut the number of weeks jobless Ohioans can get benefits. Ohioans can seek unemployment upto 26 weeks at the moment. Senate Bill 116 would change the range to 12 or 20 weeks depending on the unemployment rate.
"Ohio has about the most liberal benefit program for unemployment compensation in America," Lang said."This will bring it more in line with where I think we should be. In addition to that, the other money that the employers pay into the system will be based on not the first $9,000 an employee makes, but the first $9,500."
The bill would also decrease total benefit payouts for anyone who is unemployed. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce supports the changes, and in a public testimony, told lawmakers in 2020, Ohio's unemployment trust fund had a negative balance. They believe if the bill passes, the Ohio legislature would keep the unemployment fund at a positive rate, and avoid a cycle of insolvency.
"When there is a downturn in the economy the legislature can act and make structural changes to Ohio's unemployment system," Kevin Shimp from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said. "Senate Bill 116 makes structural changes to Ohio's unemployment system by raising the taxable wage base eliminating dependency benefits for high wage earners, and tying the maximum duration of benefits with the state's unemployment rate."
Zack Schiller is a researcher with Policy Matters Ohio and told Spectrum News this bill would benefit employers by giving them major tax cuts.
"The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, in its very conservative analysis, found over the next 13 years, this bill would cause over a $7 billion reduction in benefits," Schiller said."But, $4.9 billion of the vast majority of it would go to employers in the form of tax cuts."
Kelsey Bergfeld, the director of Advocates for Ohio's Future, said there are already work requirements and eligibility steps in place to support unemployed people, and if we tamper with the benefits, it could become detrimental for the people receiving them.
"The reductions in benefits and amount of weeks of support that Ohioans would qualify under Senate Bill 116 is certainly concerning," Bergfeld said. "We know that unemployment is intended to be a the safety net to support folks and families and accounts for an unexpected loss of a job that was no fault of their own."
The legislation is currently being heard by lawmakers in committee hearings.