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Ohio Misses Out on Millions in Unemployment Compensation

July 25, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - State lawmakers have left for summer recess, missing what some say was a chance to help the jobless. Ohio had an August 22 deadline to adopt measures to modernize its unemployment compensation trust fund. By failing to act, the state is forfeiting more than $176 million in federal funds.

Ben Johnson with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says they're not pursuing the money because the trust fund is more than $2.5 billion in debt.

"There are issues surrounding the overall solvency of Ohio's unemployment compensation trust fund program. That's our first priority; we need to get that sorted out and return the trust fund to solvency."

But the executive director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association, Tom Weeks, says lawmakers missed an opportunity.

"The General Assembly just let down Ohio's taxpayers, employees and employers by not getting their job done, by taking care of this in a timely fashion. That's too bad; it's water over the dam."

Weeks acknowledges that the funding would only have made a dent in the debt, but says lawmakers should have modernized the system nonetheless, to benefit both employers and workers. According to research from Policy Matters Ohio, the amount of money paid to jobless workers in Ohio ranks down at 38th among the states.

Ben Johnson agrees that expanding benefits would be good for the unemployed, but says modernizing the system would also have negative effects on business owners and those looking to expand and hire in Ohio.

Weeks says the changes had fairly broad support, and some could be implemented without added cost.

"Some people complained that there would have been some cost, gradually, to employers from adopting this. But there was a compromise worked out between labor and employers, the dependency allowance, which would have made it cost-neutral. "

To receive the federal aid, Ohio needed to approve two of four modernization measures: extend benefits to those seeking part-time work, and to people in approved training; allow benefits for those who leave work for compelling family reasons; and allow a minimum $15-a-week allowance for each dependent.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH