Arizona’s unemployment system needs to be revamped. I introduced SB1411 as a comprehensive package to provide this overhaul after countless hours of collaboration from a diverse stakeholder community, prioritizing information-based policymaking.
House members took a different approach. As a result, the actual policy was poorly crafted. As sent to the Senate, the bill is a job killer – HB2805 increases employer taxes seven-fold by flipping the current tax structure upside down, subjecting state unemployment taxes on wages paid in excess of $8,000, instead of up to $8,000. It provides no relief to those still on the path to recovery, only becoming effective for individuals who go on unemployment for the first-time after the New Year. And HB2805 barely moves the needle, only increasing Arizona’s weekly benefit amount ranking from 49th in the country to 44th.
Working with the business community, labor groups, small business organizations, the Department of Economic Security, Office of Economic Opportunity, Department of Labor and many others, our proposal provides immediate relief to all on unemployment the moment federal programs end. SB1411 is also a real step forward, ultimately moving our national ranking from 49th to 33rd. SB1411 phases in increases from $240 to $320 to $400. As passed by the House, HB2805 only provides a one-time increase from $240 to $300. That’s wholly inadequate.
In addition, my bill increases the amount someone can earn while collecting unemployment benefits – from the $30 per week established way back in 1983 to a more realistic $160. This will keep the temporarily unemployed engaged in the workforce.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan, comprehensive and sustainable measure. SB1411 curbs rampant fraud abuses, preserving funds for Arizona citizens and preventing undeserved charges to employer accounts. Our bill recession-proofs the fund, ensuring the necessary reserves exist to handle another run on the unemployment system like we experienced this past year. SB1411 also returns Arizona’s unemployment system to its intended purpose as a lifeline when jobs are scarce and as a bridge to the next job when employment opportunities reach prosperous levels.
The Senate’s unemployment package is thoughtful and complete. I was disappointed to read the op-ed of April 8. With 25 out of 30 votes in favor, SB 1411 was sent to the House confident that good policy would triumph over individual egos. This measure is too important to struggling Arizonans and Arizona businesses to let anything get in the way.
Sen. Karen Fann, who represents Legislative District 1, is President of the Arizona Senate.