Jobless benefits hike closer - East Valley Tribune: Business

Jobless benefits hike closer

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Posted: Saturday, May 15, 2004 7:17 am | Updated: 5:24 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Current and future unemployed workers appear on their way to getting the first benefit increase in six years. Gov. Janet Napolitano told Capitol Media Services she will sign Senate-approved legislation raising payments. "It’s a good bill, it’s a fair compromise,’’ she said.

The only thing that might change her mind, she said, is if the House of Representatives tries to add language similar to what she found offensive a year ago when she vetoed similar legislation. That unacceptable verbiage was added by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, at least in part at the behest of the National Federation of Independent Business.

But Michelle Bolton, state director of the federation, said she is content with a Senate amendment that deals with wage reporting requirements.

And Rep. Phil Hanson, R-Peoria, already has gotten the House to give preliminary approval to the Senate version of the bill despite some complaints by the state Chamber of Commerce about a new provision dealing with how Social Security payments should affect unemployment benefits.

The state’s unemployment laws entitle workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to collect one half of what they were earning. But current statute caps those payments at $205 a week, no matter how much the employee was making.

This legislation would boost that to $240 effective July 1.

Moves to boost those benefits cause concern in the business community because the payments come from a trust fund fueled by a tax paid by employers on the first $7,000 of each worker’s wages.

And business lobbyists usually seek some concessions in return. This year’s version has several.

One of the most significant requires an individual to earn a minimum of $1,500 during a calendar quarter of the period used to determine the benefits, up from $1,000.

Another change says that, effective next year, a person is not "unemployed’’ if he or she is receiving wages in lieu of notice, dismissal pay or severance pay. But lawmakers agreed to waive that provision for employment contracts entered into by the end of this year.

And it spells out that the insurance premium for companies with the best rating — meaning that lay off the fewest people — would see their premiums drop from 0.05 percent to 0.02 percent.

But other interests also were taken into account.

Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, who forged the deal, added a provision saying that jobless benefits cannot be the reduced by the receipt of Social Security retirement. That change, sought by AARP, is designed to take into account the contributions the worker made into the pension plan.

It also clarifies that the Department of Economic Security cannot deny payments to someone who has to leave a job because of a documented case of domestic violence.

Missing is one provision Pearce inserted last year that would have denied benefits to some part-time and seasonal workers. Pearce got to put his fingerprints on the legislation because the

Senate-passed bill was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs.

Hanson already has pushed through a voice vote in the House to concur with the Senate version. Only a final roll-call vote is necessary to send the measure to the governor.

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