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Ohio Lawmakers Slow Down on Bill to Cut Unemployment Benefits

Barbara Sears

A controversial bill that would have cut jobless benefits in Ohio is on hold for now. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.

The bill seeks to shore up the fund through which the state pays unemployment benefits before another recession.

It cuts the amount businesses pay into that fund, because its sponsor says they’ve been paying penalties and surcharges into the fund for more than a decade.

But the bill also shortens the window for jobless workers to get unemployment checks from 26 weeks to 12 to 20 weeks. And it cuts extra benefits to workers with dependents, and deducts some Social Security payments from benefits. Republican Rep. Barbara Sears of northwest Ohio acknowledges there were questions raised about her bill by state senators.

“We’re going to be looking at all the different components, and certainly weeks is a major portion of the bill – it’s one of the largest changes,” says Sears.

Advocates for low-income Ohioans had blasted the bill as unfair to workers and said it would make it harder to qualify for benefits in Ohio than any other state. Lisa Hamler Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Food Banks is among the activists for hundreds of groups who’d called on lawmakers to scrap the bill entirely and start over.

“We look forward to working with the legislative group that will be convening, and firmly believe that stakeholder input, not an insider deal, is needed to fix the unemployment system in the long term,” says Hamler Fugitt.

Sears stands behind her bill, saying this pause isn’t unusual for a big piece of legislation and she still expects it to pass before the end of the year.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.