With a vote in the Senate today, the General Assembly approved legislation to put Rhode Islanders back to work while still allowing them to take advantage of federal support.
Sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), the legislation (2021-H 6249A, 2021-S 0858aa,) makes changes to unemployment benefits to ensure an incentivized workforce that can help Rhode Island’s economic recovery while also taking advantage of available federal funding to help Rhode Islanders support themselves and stimulate the economy.
The legislation, which is supported by Gov. Daniel McKee, was fast-tracked through the General Assembly by legislative leaders to help businesses hire workers in time for the summer season. The House version of the bill passed the Senate today. The Senate version passed the House Finance Committee today and is expected to be voted on by the House tomorrow, and then both bills will be sent to the governor.
“Many businesses, especially in the service industries like hospitality, are now having trouble finding workers, even though our unemployment rate is still higher than usual. It’s a nationwide issue, but in places like Rhode Island where the hospitality and restaurant industries are a significant portion of our economy, it’s particularly concerning. We need those industries to be ready for a resurgence as people are vaccinated and go back to traveling this summer,” said Senator Goodwin. “We shouldn’t say no to federal dollars that can also stimulate our state’s economy and help the partially employed make ends meet, but we also should ensure that it’s more rewarding to work than stay on unemployment.”
Said Representative McEntee, “With the passage of this bill, we are signaling to all of our struggling small businesses and workers that help is on the way. It will protect and support our small businesses while also allowing our workers to get back to their jobs without fear of losing the crucial benefits that have kept themselves and their families afloat during the pandemic. Rhode Island will become a national leader with a funded solution to a country-wide problem that so many are trying to solve, but more importantly, this bill will allow our small businesses and their workers to financially recover from the devastating year we have all experienced thanks to the pandemic.”
The legislation would allow those receiving unemployment benefits to go to work and earn up to 150% of their unemployment insurance benefit amount – not including any federal boosts – before being cut off from unemployment. Currently, people lose unemployment once they earn more in wages than their state benefit. This is important because when people are ineligible to receive an unemployment payment, they are also cut off from the extra $300 per week federal boost. As long as they receive even a portion of their unemployment benefit, they also get the federal $300 boost.
Under this legislation, for example, someone with a $300 weekly benefit amount could earn up to $449 at work before losing their unemployment.
The bill would also increase the amount people can earn before having their benefits reduced. Rhode Islanders would be able to earn up to half of their benefit amount before having any earnings subtracted from their unemployment benefits. Right now, the threshold is 20%, so someone with a $300 weekly benefit starts having their wages subtracted from it once they earn $60 a week. Under the bill, that person could up to $150 without having any impact on their benefits.
The changes would take effect May 23.
The legislation will help businesses recover by incentivizing workers to return to work, to take additional shifts and work more hours, because they could still keep some of their unemployment benefit.
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