Alabama House approves changes to unemployment compensation

Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills

Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills

The House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill that would allow people to earn more money without seeing their unemployment benefits reduced, but not before the measure sparked a brief debate among members of the House’s Republican caucus.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, would change the ceiling for how much an individual can earn each week before seeing their unemployment benefits affected. Currently, individuals can make only up to $15 a week without seeing their unemployment benefits reduced.

Under the bill, the threshold would be increased to a third of their benefit. A person drawing an unemployment check of $250 a week could make up to $75 a week without seeing their benefit reduced. Currently, a person who made $20 a week would see the $250 benefit check cut to $245.

Williams said the legislation was aimed to revise a formula that had not been revisited since the 1960s.

“We want people to work in this state,” he said. “This is designed to give people the opportunity to work for themselves . . . and allow small businesses to decide if want to take someone off the unemployment rolls and maybe give them full-time employment.”

However, some members of the House Republican caucus expressed concerns about the overall impact of the bill on the state’s small employers, who fund the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, initially moved to have the vote on the bill delayed in order to allow him to “understand the implications” of the legislation. Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke, also suggested that legislators should be careful when people say “it’s not going to cost businesses anything.”

Williams said the bill was aimed at helping people reduce dependence on government assistance.

“I thought this legislative session was about people working,” he said. “We’ve got people filibustering against working.”

After taking up other business, the House took up the bill again; at the podium, Williams said the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund had $220 million on hand, enough to defray the $980,000 cost estimated by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The House passed the bill 74 to 9, with Henry and Laird both voting yes. The legislation now moves to the Senate.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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