House Makes It Easier to Cut Unemployment Benefits

A laid-off worker could lose his unemployment benefit by refusing to take a job paying less than his previous paycheck, under a bill passed by the state House on Thursday.

Under the Unemployment Security rewrite, a laid-off worker could collect the entire amount of his benefit for thirteen weeks – but then he must lower his employment standards.

After 13 weeks, the worker loses the benefit if he turns down a job paying only 75 percent of his previous pay. That ramps up – or down, depending on how you look at it – to losing benefits after 38 weeks for refusing a job paying only 65 percent of the previous paycheck.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner says the bill is aimed at working people.

“You know we’ve passed a lot of bills in this state this last two years helping the business people. But we haven’t passed that many to help that working man. So that’s what, who’s got me concerned right now …This bill is one-sided.”

But Republican Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster says the bill isn’t meant to hurt anybody.

“I don’t believe we are punishing anybody. If anything I believe we are actually helping the working man by keeping him honest.”

The bill adds three new types of misconduct for which a jobless benefit can be denied – including failing a drug test while applying for a new job.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the Senate version of the bill and it’s ready for a floor vote in the upper chamber.

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During House debate on the bill, Democratic opponents said the new law would force more people out of the middle class.

But Republican Representative Sheila Butt of Columbia says that concern is misplaced.

This is common sense legislation that incentivizes people to look for a job. A hundred and seventy-five dollars a week on unemployment takes you out of the middle class automatically. So you’re already out of the middle class, you need to start going and finding work, and try not to be a burden to the taxpayers.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir, and other employers in the chamber spoke of their payments as “premiums” paid into the unemployment trust fund.

But small business lobbyists insist that even though the unemployment trust fund operates much like an insurance scheme, the premium paid by employers is officially a state tax.

The bill, SB 3658 Johnson/ HB 3431 Matlock, passed the House 75-17-1.

The lower pay levels that must be accepted after various time periods are included in an amendment.

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