After years of knowing the Indiana Unemployment Insurance Fund was headed toward a financial crisis, Indiana legislators waited until the last minute to develop a plan to deal with a potentially bankrupt system. For 16 of the last 18 years, the fund has taken in less money in taxes than it has paid out in benefits.
In 2001 the trust fund had a $1.6 billion surplus, and a deal was struck through which businesses were given an unsustainable tax cut. This essentially created an unfunded liability for employers and relinquished their responsibility as taxpaying entities. No wonder our governor was able to promote Indiana as a location where companies could find a "good business" environment.
The Unemployment Trust Fund officially went broke at the end of November 2008. As of March 11, the state has so far borrowed $534 million from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. If there is no consensus on a solution for solvency among our legislators by next year, the federal government has the authority to step in and take over control of the unemployment fund.
However, even that threat hasn't created much movement on serious reform, and it just may be the solution we need.
"The proposed bill that has come out of the Indiana Senate this session penalizes workers for being unemployed."
Now we are in a recession, and what is the proposed solution to a crisis they have known about for over a decade? Cut benefits, make workers wait even longer to receive benefits, target construction workers as a special classification and reduce their benefits, allow construction employers to opt out of the system and possibly increase taxes on employees.
Remember, unemployment insurance is not a handout, and is not an entitlement program. It is an insurance fund based on the number of hours employees work and funding it is an employer responsibility. The last thing we need to do is make it more difficult for families to make ends meet during hard economic times with thoughtless and reactive changes.
The proposed bill that has come out of the Indiana Senate this session penalizes workers for being unemployed, even though it was no fault of their own. Workers will have less income, pay more taxes, wait longer to receive benefits and be penalized for choosing construction as a career.
There are plenty of workers in the construction industry who have held steady jobs -- year after year -- without any breaks in employment. However, the proposed bill penalizes those construction workers who have never utilized unemployment insurance.
Construction workers have been unfairly targeted by some Republicans, and the hostility is frightening. The proposed bill calls construction employees "seasonal" workers now and would prohibit the same benefits as so-called "non-seasonal" workers.
"Construction workers have been unfairly targeted by some Republicans, and the hostility is frightening."
The "seasonal" construction workers would receive less income, wait longer for benefits and have benefits reduced over time, while their families are in financial turmoil, just because of a new classification dreamt up by some Republican representative.
By deciding any construction worker is now by definition "seasonal" and less worthy of equal treatment, the worker is demoted to a lower class, exempt from the same benefits, and suffers financial hardship through no fault of his or her own. In the eyes of some of our Indiana Republicans, these workers chose the wrong career in Indiana!
You can thank the majority of Republican senators for trying to punish workers and for specifically targeting construction workers. All 17 Democrats in the Senate, and some Republicans, voted against the bill and should be commended.
All of this illustrates why knowing the voting records of your representatives is so important. I don't know how any worker, any employee, can justify voting for some of these people when they continually vote against the self-interests of the workers they represent.
If you are a worker, this bill will affect you. The unemployment bill is an attack on all workers and all employees. It's the same old story, but once again, the solution for a problem facing business falls onto the backs of the workers. What a disgrace!
Tom Szymanski can be reached at email@example.com.