Indiana unemployment rolls swelled last spring, as a worsening coronavirus epidemic upended Hoosier businesses and led employers to lay off workers.
Claims for jobless benefits rose from an average of 3,000 per week to around 146,000 in late March. Worse, Indiana Department of Workforce Development officials told the Indianapolis Star in late June that private-sector employment was down more than 405,000, compared to the year before.
A Brookings Institution report issued this month said a state work share program could have saved between 13,000 and 34,000 Hoosier jobs, but state lawmakers aren't interested. The state missed out on at least $116 million – and as much as $200 million – in federal funding to put the program in place, the report says.
Bills to create a work share system – one in which employers can reduce workers' hours rather than laying them off during tough economic times – have been introduced each year since 2011. Employees would be eligible for partial unemployment benefits while they keep their jobs and work benefits.
The legislation has rarely gotten hearings, and no bill has come close to passing.
It's a trend that has, unfortunately, continued this year, despite support for work share from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and businesses. The latest effort – Senate Bill 44 – died Wednesday when Sen. Phil Boots, chairman of the chamber's Pensions and Labor Committee, refused a vote on the measure.
Boots, a Crawfordsville Republican, expressed concern about creating a new government program and questioned how many Indiana companies would use it.
“I'd like to reduce some government programs, not increase them,” Boots said.
Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber – often a reliable ally to GOP lawmakers on economic issues – strongly disagreed, and called blocking the bill “unconscionable” amid a pandemic. About 200 Indiana businesses contacted the Chamber in support of work share before a hearing last week, he said.
“For nearly a decade, this common sense unemployment extension has been sabotaged by a few influential legislators and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development,” Brinegar said in a statement. “It doesn't matter what impartial research says. It doesn't matter the negative impact on employers and employees. And it doesn't matter to Sen. Boots that he has turned down as much as $200 million in federal funding to add work share to Indiana's unemployment system. The refusal to have meaningful debate and to allow work share legislation to reach the House or Senate floor is unconscionable given the pandemic and push for economic recovery.”
Strong words. He's right.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they support the bill, authored by Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington.
Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, called it a “win win win.” Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, pushed the state to enact work share.
Danielle Tucker, corporate counsel for labor and employment for Cummins Inc., said during a hearing on the bill her company has used work share in other states including Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota to keep workers employed.
“Work share has been very beneficial to Cummins,” Tucker said.
The Brookings report says 28 states have work share programs in place to help workers and businesses. Indiana won't be joining them.