COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A panel of state lawmakers is examining whether Ohio's unemployment benefits system is sustainable and whether any solvency issues need to be addressed.
The committee of six appointed Republicans and two appointed Democrats was recently created after a bill aimed at resolving the system's challenges stalled in the legislature.
The Unemployment Compensation Reform Joint Committee held its first of five hearings on Thursday.
The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/2bUwzM1 ) that state and independent analysts have long advised lawmakers that Ohio's system was structurally imbalanced, failing to accrue enough reserves during times of low unemployment to cover benefits during recessions. Ohio, like other states, was forced to borrow from a federal loan fund to keep paying benefits during the economic downturn that began in 2007. The state has yet to pay off its debt.
Bruce Madson, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, told the joint committee at its Thursday meeting that the state could again have to borrow money to pay the jobless benefits should another economic decline arise.
"Even a small recession could render us insolvent," Madson told lawmakers.
Madson said options to address the issue could include raising employer taxes, levying a surcharge on businesses, or freezing or lowering benefit amounts. Other possibilities include lengthening benefit wait periods or shortening the amount of time benefits can be received.
Eligible workers who lose their job through no fault of their own can get up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. To qualify, they must have earned a minimum weekly amount for 20 weeks. This year, that's $243 a week.
Republican legislative leaders have said they hope to pass a reform bill when the General Assembly returns after the Nov. 8 election.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the committee was recently created this year, not last year.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com