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Advocates Improve Unemployment Compensation Bill for Ohio Workers

The Ohio General Assembly has passed new unemployment compensation legislation, House Bill 2 (HB 2), and Governor Kasich signed HB 2 on July 11, 2013.  It becomes law 90 days after the Governor’s signature, but certain requirements take effect at a later date. As a result of advocacy by Mike Smalz (Ohio Poverty Law center), Hannah Halbert (Policy Matters) and the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association (OELA), the final version of HB 2 represents a huge improvement over the bill as it was introduced.

 As introduced, HB 2—sponsored by Representative Tim Derickson—required all unemployment compensation applicants to personally “register” on the OhioMeansJobs website as a precondition to receiving any unemployment benefits. (OhioMeansJobs is the exclusive job placement service for Ohio’s “one stop” employment assistance centers.)  “Registration” involved posting a complete résumé.  In addition, every week unemployment claimants would receive an email from OhioMeansJobs listing appropriate job matches.  The bill also required everyone to “report” to their local One Stop office beginning in their eighth consecutive week of claiming unemployment benefits.

 Mike Smalz and Hannah Halbert met several times with the bill’s sponsor, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS),  and the Governor’s Office to discuss a number of issues of concern.  Mike and Hannah pointed out that some low-income unemployed individuals do not have a computer or reasonable access to the Internet, or are computer-illiterate.  Other individuals face disability- or language-related barriers.  Mike also cited an April 6, 2013 U.S. Department of Labor Finding determining that Florida’s  unemployment compensation online application, registration and reporting requirements violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VI (language discrimination) and other federal civil rights laws.

Representative Derickson, ODJFS and Senate Republicans agreed to amend several key provisions of the bill.  As a result, final Sub. HB 2 provides:

 —  Individuals may register either online or by phone.  People who file their unemployment compensation applications by phone will also “register” by phone: the information they provide over the phone will generate a basic résumé that will be automatically be posted on the OhioMeansJobs website, although claimants may later be required to update or expand their résumé.

—  Individuals who lack a personal email account will receive telephone calls from ODJFS informing them of their weekly OhioMeansJobs job matches.  Claimants will not be required to pursue those specific job matches so long as they make the required number of weekly job searches.

—  The following categories of persons who have significant “barriers” are exempt from the registration requirement: individuals who are legally or physically unable to use a computer or who have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand a language in which OhioMeansJobs is available.

—  Individuals who are temporarily laid off as part of a mass lay-off or plant closing, or who are attending an ODJFS-approved training course, or who are a member of a union that refers members to jobs through its labor referral or placement system are also exempt from the “actively seeking work” and registration requirements.

—  Finally, the requirement that claimants “report” to their local One Stop office beginning in their eighth week after first filing for unemployment benefits may be accomplished by in-person, online, or telephone contacts, depending on ODJFS policies and the claimant’s particular circumstances.

 Sub. HB 2, in its final version, is a victory for Ohio’s unemployed workers and a far better outcome than what has happened in other states where conservative governors and legislators have pushed through legislation creating major hurdles to getting unemployment benefits or reducing the amount or duration of unemployment benefits.

written by Mike Smalz

 

Categories: Employment, Law Journal, Legislative Advocacy, Unemployment Compensation

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