Sunday’s Tulsa World reports that one of many important decisions left to the last week of the legislative session is whether to modernize Oklahoma’s unemployment insurance (UI) system to qualify for $75 million in additional federal stimulus money. According to Governor Brad Henry’s spokesman Paul Sund,
There is no downside to accepting the dollars. If we reject them, there is the risk that Oklahoma businesses may ultimately be asked to pick up the tab if or when unemployment funds run short.
In April, we released an issue brief that points out that Oklahoma needs to make minor changes to qualify for the funding:
- Make the “alternative base period” (the period for which earnings are counted to determine unemployment compensation) permanent. Oklahoma adopted an alternative base period in 2002 but it is suspended when the balance of the unemployment trust fund falls. This is a fiscally sound requirement, but it also can cut unemployment benefits when they are needed most.
- Expand the definition of “compelling family circumstances” that allow a worker to collect unemployment when leaving a job voluntarily. The new circumstances–domestic violence, transfer of a spouse, and illness of the worker or family member–help make the UI system better fit today’s families.
- Cover workers seeking part-time jobs if their previous work experience is part-time.
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