OLR Research Report


July 30, 2012

 

2012-R-0266

OLR BACKGROUNDER: CHANGES IN UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS AND ELIGIBILITY IN OTHER STATES

By: Lee R. Hansen, Legislative Analyst II

This report describes the notable changes that other states made to their unemployment systems' benefits and eligibility requirements in 2009 – 2011. It is drawn from the U.S. Department of Labor's reports on state unemployment legislation. The department has not yet issued a 2012 report. Complete versions of the 2009-2011 reports can be found at http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/statelaws.asp.

SUMMARY

The 2008 recession and its aftermath placed significant demands on the states' unemployment systems. The states have responded by enacting legislation aimed at helping both their unemployed claimants and their severely stressed unemployment systems. In many cases, these systems have become insolvent and forced to rely on loans from the federal government.

In general, initiatives aimed at helping unemployed claimants include:

1. creating an “alternative base period” that provides a second method to determine eligibility for a claimant who might have otherwise been ineligible for benefits (enacted by 19 states);

2. expanding voluntary separation eligibility to allow benefits for claimants who voluntarily left their employment for reasons such as illness, domestic violence, or to accompany a reassigned spouse in the military (enacted by 29 states);

3. allowing or extending benefits to claimants in certain training programs; and

4. increasing benefit amounts.

In response to the fiscal burden on their unemployment systems, the states have also enacted initiatives to tighten benefit eligibility requirements and limit the amounts and duration of benefits. Legislation on benefit eligibility has particularly focused on:

1. defining and expanding the types of misconduct for which an employee can be discharged an ineligible for benefits;

2. broadening the “suitable employment” a claimant must apply for or accept;

3. requiring claimants to participate in reemployment training; and

4. increasing the amounts claimants must have earned prior to becoming unemployed.

NOTABLE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM CHANGES

Table 1 shows the notable changes that the states have made to their unemployment systems' benefits and eligibility requirements in 2009 – 2011. Due to their prevalence, laws creating alternative base periods and expanding voluntary separation eligibility are not included in the table.

Table 1: Notable Unemployment System Changes, 2009-2011

State

Year

Bill

Benefits

Eligibility

AR

2009

SB 429

 

Temporarily increases the disqualification period for claimants discharged for misconduct (extended through 2013 by 2011 HB 1909)

 

2011

SB 593

Decreases the minimum weekly benefit from $82 to $81

Decreases the maximum weekly benefit from $457 to $451

Lowers the amount claimants must earn to qualify for benefits

Disqualifies claimants (1) discharged for absenteeism under certain circumstances; (2) who chose termination for poor performance instead of accepting an alternate suitable job; or (3) who are offered suitable work but fail, or fail to take, a required drug test

Lengthens the disqualification period for claimants (1) discharged for certain misconduct or (2) who fail to accept available suitable work without good cause

Disqualifies claimants

CA

2010

AB 2058

 

Allows claimants to receive benefits while in the CA Training Benefits Program

CO

2009

HB 1076

Stops reducing a claimant's UI benefit by 50% of the claimant's Social Security retirement benefit

 

FL

2009

SB 810

 

Allows benefits to claimants who give notice but are then discharged before leaving

Denies benefits to claimants who are discharged but then quit before the discharge takes effect

 

2010

SB 1736

 

Requires claimants to register and report to career centers for reemployment services

 

2011

HB 7005

Decreases the maximum amount of benefits a claimant can receive

Limits benefits to 12 weeks if the state's unemployment rate is less than 5% and allows an additional week of benefits for each additional 0.5% increase in the unemployment rate

Caps benefits at 23 weeks if the state's unemployment rate is over 10.5%

Expands the definition of “misconduct” for which employees can be discharged (and disqualified for benefits) to include certain acts that occur away from the workplace and off working hours

Requires claimants to contact at least 5 prospective employers each week or report to career centers for reemployment services

HI

2010

HB 2169

Beginning in 2012, decreases the maximum weekly benefit from 75% of the average weekly wage to 70% of the average weekly wage

 

ID

2009

HB 248

Extends benefits for claimants in certain training programs

 
 

2010

HB 646

Reduces a claimant's UI benefit by the amount of any workers' compensation disability benefits the claimant receives

 

IL

2009

SB 1350

Sets minimum and maximum dependant allowances

 
 

2011

HB 1030

Allows for decreases in maximum total benefits under certain circumstances

 
   

SB 72

Decreases maximum weekly benefits rates beginning in 2016

 

IN

2009

HB 1379

Reduces the maximum benefit for claimants who fail to apply for jobs

Increases the amount claimants must earn to qualify for benefits from $2,750 to $4,200

Requires claimants to submit at least one job application per week (repealed in 2010)

Requires claimants to accept increasingly lower paid positions as “suitable employment” after 5 and 8 weeks of unemployment

Expands the definition of “gross misconduct” for which employees can be discharged (and denied benefits)

 

2011

HB 1450

Temporarily caps the amount of a claimant's wages used to determine benefits

Disqualifies claimants who are employed on an on-call or as-needed basis

Disqualifies claimants who chose to retire and collect a pension instead of a layoff due to a factory/ plant closing

KY

2010

HB 5a

Establishes a 1-week waiting period to collect benefits

Increases the weekly benefit rate from 1.185% to 1.3078% of a claimant's base period wages

Bases the maximum increase in the maximum benefit rate on the amount in the unemployment trust fund

 

MD

2009

HB 740/

SB 576

Increases the maximum weekly benefit amount

Increases the amount a claimant must earn to qualify for the maximum weekly benefit

 

2010

SB 107

Increases the minimum weekly benefit amount and the minimum earnings needed to qualify for it

Increases the maximum weekly benefit amount and the minimum earnings needed to qualify for it

Lowers the amount a claimant can earn while still receiving full benefits

Increases the disqualification period for claimants discharged for misconduct or gross misconduct

MI

2011

HB 4408

Decreases benefit weeks from 26 to 20

 

MN

2009

HB 2088

 

Broadens the geographic area in which a claimant must be willing to accept employment

Allows benefits to claimants who accepted a temporary layoff so that another employee could avoid a layoff

 

2010

SB 2510

Limits how much a claimant's benefits can be reduced if he or she becomes unemployed again during a certain period of time

Allows claimants to turn down an employment offer from a staffing service unless more than 45% of their previous employment was through a staffing service

 

2011

SB 1130

 

Increases the amount claimants must have earned to be eligible for benefits from $2,000 to $2,400

Lowers the staffing service threshold enacted in 2010 from 45% to 25%

MT

2009

SB 150

Proportionately reduces benefits for claimants who are unavailable on certain days to take otherwise available work

Denies benefits during an approved leave of absence but provides them if the position is no longer available when employee returns

Denies benefits during a disciplinary suspension up to 2 weeks

NE

2010

L 1020

 

Increases the disqualification period for leaving work voluntarily from 12 to 13 weeks

NH

2009

SB 129

Creates a 1-week waiting period before a claimant can collect

 
 

2010

HB 1411

 

Requires school superintendants to notify support personnel and non-teachers in writing if they will be employed the next school year (and thus ineligible for benefits)

 

2011

HB 26

 

Lowers the theft threshold for “gross misconduct” from $500 to $250

Establishes a new disqualification period for claimants discharged for theft between $100 and $250

NM

2009

HB 20

Increases benefits from 53.5% to 60% of claimant's average weekly wage; sets maximum benefit as 60% of state's average weekly wage for all insured work (returned to 53.5% in 2010)

 

NC

2009

HB 1124

 

Allows veterans to collect benefits if they were fired for acts or omissions caused by a severe disability incurred in the line of duty

 

2010

HB 1676

 

Disqualifies substitute teachers for benefits unless they have worked as a substitute for at least 30 hours per week for at least 6 months

 

2011

SB 532

 

Allows benefits to claimants in certain training programs

Broadens the definition of misconduct for which employees can be discharged (and ineligible for benefits)

ND

2009

SB 2108

 

Requires claimants to complete all assigned services and report to local offices

PA

2011

SB 1030

Freezes maximum weekly benefit amounts for 2012 and limits future increases while the state's trust fund is insolvent

Increases the amount a claimant must have earned to qualify for benefits

With some exceptions, requires claimants to register and post a resume with the state's Career Link system

RI

2010

HB 7397

Increases the minimum dependent's allowance from $10 to $15 per dependent

Caps the total dependent's allowance at the greater of $50 or 25% of a claimant's weekly benefit

 

SC

2010

SB 391

Increases the minimum weekly benefit from $20 to $42

Increases the amount a claimant must have earned to be eligible for benefits from $900 to $4,455

 

2011

HB 3762

Reduces benefit weeks from 26 to 20

 

TN

2009

HB 2324

Creates s a $15/ week dependant child allowance with $50/ week aggregate limit

 
 

2010

HB 2092

 

Allows benefits to claimants enrolled in higher education institutes if they are otherwise eligible to receive them

UT

2009

   

Disqualifies claimants from benefits for 52 weeks if they were discharged for a crime in connection with work

VT

2009

HB 442

Delays a scheduled automatic increase in the maximum weekly benefit amount

 
 

2009

HB 313

Provides an additional 26 weeks of benefits to claimants in certain training programs

 
 

2010

SB 290

Prohibits automatic annual increases in the maximum weekly benefit amount when the UI trust fund is in debt

Creates a 1-week waiting period before a claimant can collect benefits

For employees discharged for gross misconduct, removes wages earned at that employer from being used to determine benefit amounts and eligibility

Allows claimants to be required to participate in reemployment services

Increases the potential disqualification period for claimants who discharged for misconduct

Defines “gross misconduct” to include intoxication and certain repeated incidents of unprovoked insubordination or public profanity

VA

2010

HB 535

Increases minimum weekly benefits from $54 to $60 in 2011 (increase delayed until 2012 by 2011 SB 1010)

Increases the amount a claimant must have earned to qualify for minimum benefits

 

2011

SB 1010

 

Increases the amount a claimant must have earned to qualify for minimum benefits from $2,700 to $3,000

WA

2009

HB 1906

Increases all benefits $45

Increases the minimum weekly benefit from $129 to $155

Increases the maximum weekly benefit from $541 to $586

 
 

2009

SB 5963

 

Allows benefits to claimants who voluntarily left work due to drastic decreases in compensation or work hours, poor work conditions, or changes in work location

 

2011

HB 1091

Temporarily increases minimum and maximum benefits by $25

 

WV

2009

SB 246

 

Allows employees to be fired for “gross misconduct” (and thus ineligible for benefits) if (1) they are under the influence of a controlled substance at work without a prescription; (2) manipulate a lawful drug or alcohol test; or (3) refuse to submit to random alcohol or drug testing for employees in safety sensitive positions