Changes to unemployment benefits defeated

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislation that would have allowed the state to draw down an additional $18 million in federal stimulus funds for people who lose their job through no fault of their own was defeated Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee.
The legislation would have allowed more recent work experience to be used in calculating unemployment benefits. Under current law, if a person was laid off in June, no work experience for the year could be used in figuring benefits.
Supporters of the legislation said it would particularly benefit low-income workers. It is estimated that the change would help about 6,500 Mississippians and cost about $14 million annually.
Opponents of the legislation said the change would result in a tax increase once the federal stimulus funds were exhausted. But supporters said the law could be changed back when the stimulus funds were gone.
At one point it appeared the fight over the stimulus funds could result in the Department of Employment Security, which administers the state’s unemployment program, not being reauthorized. But in the end, House Labor Chair Rufus Straughter, D-Belzoni, a supporter of obtaining the federal funds, agreed to reauthorize the agency if Gov. Haley Barbour would agree to sign the bill if it reached his desk. Barbour agreed.
But the bill was killed in the Finance Committee on a 13-9 vote.