La. lawmakers vote down unemployment increase, move to suspend business tax hike

Updated: Oct. 12, 2020 at 9:21 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A House committee Monday, Oct. 12, killed an idea to boost the maximum weekly unemployment benefit by $100 dollars.

Louisianans who are looking for a job can collect up to $247, the nation’s third-lowest rate. Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, wanted to boost the payment to $347.

“At least begin to have the conversation around the importance of adequate unemployment insurance benefits and what it does for the economy," he said.

But Republican lawmakers said the move would push Louisiana further into debt, noting the state ran out of money cutting checks at the current, lower rate.

The federal government has loaned Louisiana and other states cash so unemployment checks will not bounce. Raising the unemployment benefit would all but guarantee the state’s debt grows.

But lawmakers also moved to suspend an automatic $53 million tax increase on businesses triggered by the loan, which appears to be the only tangible way the state could begin to pay down the existing debt. Legislators are hoping Congress will replenish the pot in another Coronavirus relief bill.

Another plan advanced Monday that could reduce the strain on the state’s unemployment system by creating a work-share program.

Employers that choose to participate could save money by temporarily cutting employees' hours. The businesses would still be on the hook for benefits like health insurance, but employers would be allowed to collect partial unemployment benefits from the state to recoup a portion of their lost wages.

For example, a worker whose hours were reduced by 20 percent could collect 20 percent of the maximum unemployment benefit in addition to their salary. Under current law, only unemployed Louisianans can draw on unemployment insurance.

The business tax suspension and the work-share program now head to the House floor for full debate.

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