Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald
Op-Ed By Rep. David Cook (R, District-8)
There are two basic questions to ask about today’s unemployment assistance benefits: 1) Is $240 per week enough for a family to live on while unemployed? 2) Is unemployment supposed to be income replacement or a temporary safety net to bridge the gap and meet the needs of our employees and their families who find themselves out of work? We could ask the nearly one half million people across Arizona who have applied for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
I’ve heard from so many constituents who have struggled after losing their job over the past year due to the pandemic and the associated government restrictions on businesses. I fully believe it is the duty of state legislators to help hard-working Arizonans across the state as they struggle through this crisis.
That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation, HB 2805, to provide much-needed, additional unemployment assistance to Arizonans who have been put in this terrible situation. It raises the weekly unemployment benefit cap to $300, giving the people of Arizona the equivalent of one more assistance payment per month. Arizona’s benefit is currently limited to $240 – the second-lowest in the nation – providing little help for a family when expenses average $1,120 per week for housing, food, health care, and more.
One of the most important changes in HB 2805 will allow people to earn up to $160 per week from part-time hours while looking for a new job in the field to continue their careers. This is a significant change from the current unemployment law, which punishes people for accepting part-time work by deducting their assistance after earning just $30.
This isn’t about a handout. Unemployment insurance is designed to help people during temporary periods of unemployment. It is one of the most effective policies for stabilizing an economy during recessions by providing money to people who need it most while maintaining consumer demand.
Employers pay insurance premiums throughout the year. In fact, Arizona employers are asked to pay unemployment insurance premiums that average $148 per year, half of the national average. My bill asks Arizona employers to pay an extra $15 to $16 more per covered employee annually. In return, they will benefit when people receiving assistance immediately put that money back into the economy, covering their bills while looking for a new job.
Large and small businesses alike consistently say the most important aspect of a successful business is their employees. Businesses make significant investments to ensure the health and safety of their employees, such as offering added perks such as health and wellness coaching and gym memberships. I can’t imagine that a business faced with the decision to reduce their workforce and lay-off workers would not want those people in the best position possible under the current circumstances.
I am proud to sponsor this important legislation with the support of 33 colleagues on both sides of the aisle – we are working together to respond to the needs of our constituents. Let’s get this done.
David Cook is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives serving Legislative District 8, which includes areas of Pinal, Gila, and Maricopa Counties.