The federal government is cutting unemployment compensation benefits with one hand, while in Ohio, extending them with the other.
That’s the upshot of two recent changes to federal jobless benefits.
Starting this week, some 37,000 Ohioans receiving federal jobless benefits will begin to see those benefits squeezed by just over 16 percent — about $50 per week — as a result of federal “sequestration” budget cuts.
However, the federal government has also created a new tier — up to an extra nine weeks of benefits — to qualifying Ohio residents because the state’s unemployment rate has increased.
“On the one hand, we’re seeing benefits cut, and on the other hand, we’re seeing benefits increased,” said Zach Schiller, research director of the liberal-leaning state think tank, Policy Matters Ohio. “That’s confusing and odd.”
Schiller attributes the confusion to sequestration cuts and the way they’re implemented.
He also disagrees that one move offsets the other. Those living on unemployment often live check to check and any reduction in benefits will be difficult, he said.
The federal cuts don’t affect Ohioans who are receiving the state-funded first 26 weeks of benefits.
However, for someone in the first “tier” of federally funded benefits — which is up to 14 weeks — the cuts won’t be felt until that person exhausts that tier and applies for the second 14-week tier.
In Ohio, today, a total of up to 37 weeks of federal benefits are available. (The first two federal tiers are up to 14 weeks each; the third and final tier is up to nine weeks.)
A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said it’s difficult to determine how many Ohioans receive federal jobless benefits by county.
“The benefit reduction would impact the claimants … if they complete their 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation without finding work and move into the federal program,” said Ben Johnson, an ODJFS spokesman.
Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, is eyeing the impact of budget cuts as well as long-term concern about the deficit, a spokeswoman for his office said.
“There is no question that America needs to address its out-of-control debt and deficits to avoid placing an unfair burden on future generations, but Congress should have given the (Obama) administration the flexibility to prioritize spending cuts and minimize their impact on Ohioans,” Caitlin Dunn told the Dayton Daily News. “Sen. Portman voted to give the administration that flexibility, and remains disappointed that the Senate Democrats didn’t support this common-sense solution.”
The issue is on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s radar, as well, a spokeswoman said.
“Sen. Brown is working with advocacy groups and his colleagues from both sides of the aisle to prevent further cuts for jobless benefits,” said Lauren Kulik, a Brown spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, we don’t really know how this will play out.”
In the week ending April 27, the following number of individuals collected Ohio-funded unemployment compensation:
Source: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services