Archive for category Employment

We Thought We Had Resolved Electronic Access to Unemployment Compensation, But…

Last July we told you about House Bill 2 – the bill that as originally proposed would have required every unemployed Ohio worker seeking unemployment compensation benefits to electronically “register” (prepare and post a complete job resume) on the new OhioMeansJobs before he or she could receive any unemployment benefits. Check out our July 25, 2013 posting “Advocates Improve Unemployment Compensation Bill for Ohio Workers” for the details on HB 2.
To sum up, as a result of discussions among the Governor’s Office, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), and worker advocates (including the Ohio Poverty Law Center), HB 2 was substantially amended before being passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. For example, the requirement that unemployment compensation applicants electronically register on the OhioMeansJobs website as a precondition to receiving any unemployment benefits was dropped. In addition, ODJFS provided assurances that unemployed workers could initially apply for benefits and register by phone and could also choose to receive information about job matches by phone. This new law just took effect earlier this month – on April 11, 2014. It will take at least several months to evaluate the possible impact – both good and bad – of the changes triggered by the implementation of HB 2.
The debate and negotiations over HB 2 should have lain to rest mandatory electronic filing requirements for unemployment compensation. However, in March of this year, the Kasich administration introduced the budget corrections bill – the so-called Mid-Biennium Review (MBR). Buried in that 2500-page bill was a surprising provision that would require everyone – with certain narrow exceptions – to electronically file their initial applications for unemployment compensation benefits and all subsequent continuing claims. This troubling provision became part of the appropriations bill, House Bill 483 (HB 483). HB 483 was on a fast track for passage by the House Finance Appropriations Committee (and the full General Assembly).
Once again, the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC), Policy Matters Ohio, Disability Rights Ohio, Protecting Ohio Employees, and other worker advocates opposed this electronic filing mandate and requested its removal from HB 483. Once again we were successful. The controversial language was taken out of HB 483.
Unfortunately this issue is like a bad guest that will not leave the party. Similar language may be incorporated into a separate, stand-alone bill to be introduced in the General Assembly in the near future. So the battle is not over, but removing the language from the budget bill is a significant victory for unemployed Ohio workers because the legislature is likely to proceed with greater deliberation and care in considering a separate bill during the regular legislative process – instead of the fast-track, high-pressure budget appropriations process.

The legislature should take a deliberate approach. The recent disastrous experience of Florida in implementing a similar law, resulting in tens of thousands of workers losing their unemployment benefits and a finding by the U.S. Department of Labor that Florida’s unemployment compensation system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other major federal civil rights laws, is a cautionary tale. Data from Connect Ohio shows there is still a significant digital divide in Ohio. For example, only 72% of Ohio homes subscribe to in-home broadband access. The adoption rate is even lower in Appalachian Ohio and among low-income households, persons without a college education, older Ohioans, and adults with disabilities. Moreover, at least one in eight Ohioans who did not subscribe to broadband service do not do so because of their lack of computer skills, and more than 2.7 million working-age Ohioans have difficulty completing many computer-related tasks required by today’s employers. There are also some communities – and in particular in southeastern Ohio – where residents do not even have access to broadband service.
Obviously, and despite all the contrary information, an all-electronic system for handling unemployment compensation has the attention of both the Ohio legislature and the Governor. OPLC and its partners plan to stay on top of any future legislative efforts to require electronic filing of all unemployment compensation applications and continuing claims, and potentially even more intrusive requirements such as completing extensive online questionnaires or tests without a telephone alternative or being able to obtain in-person assistance at local, OhioMeansJobs sites. But every Ohio worker has a stake in the outcome of continuing legislative efforts to sacrifice worker access to critical benefits in the name of efficiency and economy. In weighing the options, access to benefits should always win out.

written by Mike Smalz

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Advocates Improve Unemployment Compensation Bill for Ohio Workers

The Ohio General Assembly has passed new unemployment compensation legislation, House Bill 2 (HB 2), and Governor Kasich signed HB 2 on July 11, 2013.  It becomes law 90 days after the Governor’s signature, but certain requirements take effect at a later date. As a result of advocacy by Mike Smalz (Ohio Poverty Law center), Hannah Halbert (Policy Matters) and the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association (OELA), the final version of HB 2 represents a huge improvement over the bill as it was introduced.

 As introduced, HB 2—sponsored by Representative Tim Derickson—required all unemployment compensation applicants to personally “register” on the OhioMeansJobs website as a precondition to receiving any unemployment benefits. (OhioMeansJobs is the exclusive job placement service for Ohio’s “one stop” employment assistance centers.)  “Registration” involved posting a complete résumé.  In addition, every week unemployment claimants would receive an email from OhioMeansJobs listing appropriate job matches.  The bill also required everyone to “report” to their local One Stop office beginning in their eighth consecutive week of claiming unemployment benefits.

 Mike Smalz and Hannah Halbert met several times with the bill’s sponsor, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS),  and the Governor’s Office to discuss a number of issues of concern.  Mike and Hannah pointed out that some low-income unemployed individuals do not have a computer or reasonable access to the Internet, or are computer-illiterate.  Other individuals face disability- or language-related barriers.  Mike also cited an April 6, 2013 U.S. Department of Labor Finding determining that Florida’s  unemployment compensation online application, registration and reporting requirements violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VI (language discrimination) and other federal civil rights laws.

Representative Derickson, ODJFS and Senate Republicans agreed to amend several key provisions of the bill.  As a result, final Sub. HB 2 provides:

 —  Individuals may register either online or by phone.  People who file their unemployment compensation applications by phone will also “register” by phone: the information they provide over the phone will generate a basic résumé that will be automatically be posted on the OhioMeansJobs website, although claimants may later be required to update or expand their résumé.

—  Individuals who lack a personal email account will receive telephone calls from ODJFS informing them of their weekly OhioMeansJobs job matches.  Claimants will not be required to pursue those specific job matches so long as they make the required number of weekly job searches.

—  The following categories of persons who have significant “barriers” are exempt from the registration requirement: individuals who are legally or physically unable to use a computer or who have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand a language in which OhioMeansJobs is available.

—  Individuals who are temporarily laid off as part of a mass lay-off or plant closing, or who are attending an ODJFS-approved training course, or who are a member of a union that refers members to jobs through its labor referral or placement system are also exempt from the “actively seeking work” and registration requirements.

—  Finally, the requirement that claimants “report” to their local One Stop office beginning in their eighth week after first filing for unemployment benefits may be accomplished by in-person, online, or telephone contacts, depending on ODJFS policies and the claimant’s particular circumstances.

 Sub. HB 2, in its final version, is a victory for Ohio’s unemployed workers and a far better outcome than what has happened in other states where conservative governors and legislators have pushed through legislation creating major hurdles to getting unemployment benefits or reducing the amount or duration of unemployment benefits.

written by Mike Smalz

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School Discipline Is a Community Issue: Why People Whose Kids Are Grown or Who Don’t Have Kids Should Care About What’s Happening in Our Schools

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” 
Jane Nelson

Children “should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”      Convention on the Rights of the Child, Preamble

Public schools rely too heavily on exclusion – suspension and expulsion – as their primary discipline practice.  When a child or young person misbehaves or breaks a rule, “discipline” in most schools means removal of the child from school, sometimes for one day, sometimes for a year or more.  In almost every situation in which a child is removed from school, this is an illogical, counterproductive tactic.  In some situations, it is dangerous.

Children who want to avoid schoolwork, a particular teacher, a classmate, or school in general learn quickly what to do to achieve being removed from the setting they seek to avoid.  Children who have been repeatedly removed from school fall further behind the more they are removed from their classrooms.  Children who are behind have more and more trouble catching up the more frequently they are gone.  Children who are behind and not engaged in the classroom do not learn.  Children who are not learning get bored and act up.  And so on.

Children who live in high-poverty, high-crime areas are susceptible to becoming both victims and perpetrators of crime when left outside of adult supervision all day while they are not in school. Many, many parents in low-income families work multiple jobs to try to get by, lack access to child care, and cannot stay home and supervise their children when they are suspended from school.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a history of prior suspensions causes young people to drop out of school.  And that far too many young people who are pushed out of school end up in our juvenile and criminal justice systems.

This affects all of us.  Crime committed by and against young people affects our communities, both on a large and small scale.  The young people who tag my garage and break into my neighbors’ homes in my central city neighborhood have almost certainly been failed by the public school system.  And it doesn’t just affect those of us who live in urban areas, where concentrated poverty and crime, and failing schools, are endemic.  Kids are pushed out of school in suburban and rural schools, too.  Data shows that kids who are repeatedly suspended from suburban and rural schools are at higher risk of dropping out, too.  And people who live in suburban and rural communities pay the price when kids from their own small communities, as well as the urban communities in their state, are not in school.

Because they’ve been failed by their schools, young people who are not in school are more likely to become unemployed adults.  They are more likely to become recipients of public benefits like food stamps and TANF.  Young people who are not in school do not disappear.  They simply lose access to almost every legitimate means of earning a living and supporting themselves and their families.  In short,  schools’ failure to provide students a high quality education and treat them with dignity fails not just them:  it fails every person who lives and works in their community, their state, their nation.

Every person who lives in any community, therefore, has a personal interest in ensuring that every young person in that community is in school.  Removing children from school to discipline them for wrongdoing treats them as disposable, as a nuisance that we have neither the patience nor the fortitude to address.  Instead, all community members must take responsibility for ensuring that their schools teach children appropriate behavior, use discipline wisely, and exclude children from school rarely.

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Understanding Prepaid Debit Cards – Starting Up The Learning Curve

On July 25 the Ohio Poverty Law Center sponsored “Law and Economics of Poverty”, a training for legal aid attorneys in Ohio, at which many of us were introduced to prepaid debit cards as an alternative to conventional banking.  Also referred to as general purpose reloadable prepaid cards (GPR prepaid cards), these cards are relatively new financial products that can offer some attractive features to a number of different consumer groups.  Low income families or individuals using Ohio Direction cards for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Eppicards for Ohio Works First benefits, and ReliaCards for unemployment compensation are already using reloadable prepaid cards, although these cards are not general purpose cards.  As all who work regularly in public benefits know, the US Treasury is phasing out paper check payments and requiring all recipients of federal benefits to get their money electronically.  The Treasury’s website, www.GoDirect.org, has a giant clock counting off the seconds until March 1, 2013.  If recipients have not chosen a form of electronic payment by that date, they will receive their payments via the Direct Express Card – a prepaid debit card.  As our client population moves into the age of electronic benefits and payments systems, we as advocates need to understand the benefits and pitfalls of these money-managing tools.

As is the case with many new financial products, GPR prepaid cards have been on the market for a number of years, but only recently have been the focus of potential regulatory attention. On March 14, 2012, David Rothstein, one of two presenters on prepaid cards at the July 25 training, testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection regarding issues in the prepaid card market. On May 24, 2012, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking input on GPR cards.   The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), joining with the Center for Responsible Lending and the Consumer Federation of America, submitted extensive comments and recommendations to the CFPB.

The use of prepaid cards is not evenly distributed across the population, and the largest numbers of prepaid card users are members of the vulnerable   populations we serve:  lower income, unbanked or those with less access to traditional banking facilities, recent immigrants, consumers in fragile economic situations, and younger, less educated and less experienced consumers.    Rothstein’s testimony and NCLC’s comments focus on two main points:  1) make disclosures clear and meaningful; and 2) prohibit overdraft fees and credit features.

The issue of overdraft fees played out here in Ohio, with US Bank charging unemployment compensation recipients who opted in to overdraft protection a $17 overdraft charge for ATM or store-based transactions that exceeded balances on its ReliaCard Visas.  As of Wednesday, July 18, 2012 US Bank withdrew that option, due to pressure from advocates and because of changes in federal regulations.

Public benefits advocates have kept a close and watchful eye on the costs and features of the benefits prepaid cards.  But the universe of cards used by our client population is much bigger, and we all need to keep a watchful eye on these financial products as they continue to spread out into the marketplace.

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New Legislation Would Extend Unemployment Compensation Benefits to Some Part-Time Ohio Workers

HB 484, sponsored by Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), would create the so-called Shared Work Ohio program.  Under the bill, if a Shared Work program is approved by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), employees whose hours are reduced instead of being laid off will maintain pension and health care benefits and would be eligible to receive 26 weeks of unemployment compensation benefits on a pro rata basis.  Any unemployment compensation benefits paid to those part-time employees would be charged to the account of the participating employer.

This legislation would be a win–win for employers and employees.  Employers could retain valuable employees by cutting their hours instead of terminating their employment, and thereby avoid expensive retraining and rehiring when business demand recovers.  Employees would benefit because HB 484 would help some workers to keep their jobs during a severe economic downturn and they could receive unemployment benefits despite their part-time employment.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 484 on May 24, 2012.  The Senate Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee is now considering HB 484, and it may be given priority consideration when the General Assembly reconvenes this fall.

To urge Senate passage of this legislation, people should contact their state senators as well as the Senate Committee chairman, Senator Kevin Bacon, at (614) 466-8064.

Anyone who has questions concerning HB 484 should feel free to contact Michael Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center at (614) 824-2502 or msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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New Ohio Human Trafficking Law

On June 27, 2012, Governor Kasich signed the new Ohio Human Trafficking Law, House Bill 262 (HB 262), after it was passed by the Ohio General Assembly in mid-June.  It becomes law on September 26, 2012.

Human trafficking—i.e., trafficking of persons, usually undocumented immigrants and often minors, who are forced into prostitution or slave labor—is a serious and growing problem in Ohio and across the nation.  In fact, Toledo, Ohio, has been identified as a major transportation hub for human trafficking victims.  HB 262 provides additional remedies and services for all victims of human trafficking, but also contains provisions specifically protecting or helping minor victims of human trafficking.

Key provisions of the new law include:

  • Annual publication of statistical data on trafficking by the Ohio Attorney General (AG).
  • Development of training for peace officers by the AG and the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.
  • Development of posters providing information regarding National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline and other helpful information.
  • Authorizes awards of victim compensation monies from Reparations Fund to minor trafficking victims who are minors, despite otherwise disqualifying prior criminal convictions or delinquency adjudications
  • Creates the Victims of Human Trafficking Fund with money obtained from traffickers under forfeiture law to fund services for trafficking victims.
  • Creates a civil cause of action for trafficking victims.
  • Enhances criminal penalties for trafficking in persons and related obstruction of justice offenses.
  • Authorizes juvenile court diversion and expungement of prostitution-related delinquency offenses for trafficking victims who were minors at the time of their violations.
  • New juvenile court procedure for “expungement” of a conviction or delinquent-child adjudication for solicitation, loitering to engage in solicitation, or prostitution, resulting form that person’s having been a trafficking victim when s/he was a minor.
    • May apply at any time (no waiting period) for an order of expungement.

Anyone with questions about HB 262 should feel free to contact attorney Michael Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center at (614)824-2502 or msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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Governor Kasich Signs New Collateral Sanctions Law

On June 26, 2012, Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 337 (SB 337), which removes, or creates mechanisms for removing, a wide range of so-called “collateral sanctions” against ex-offenders and prisoners who are reentering society.  These collateral consequences create major barriers to prisoner reentry and encourage recidivism by ex-offenders by making it more difficult for ex-offenders to find a job, attain economic self-sufficiency, and/or gain a stable, productive life.  SB 337 will limit or reduce many of those barriers.  Other states have enacted or are considering similar legislation, but SB 337 is one of the most progressive and far-reaching collateral sanctions laws in the country.

SB 337 becomes law on September 25, 2012.  However, some provisions will actually take effect 90 days after that date because the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections must issue more detailed rules implementing the statutory provisions during that 90-day period.

Key provisions in the final version of SB 337 include:

  • Removal of occupational licensing prohibitions for certain occupations including optical dispensers, motor vehicle salvage-related jobs, construction workers, hearing aid dealers and fitters, private investigators, security guards, and cosmetologists.
  • Authorizing an ex-offender to apply to the Deputy Director of the Division of Parole and Community Services or the court of common pleas of the county in which the ex-offender resides for a “certificate of qualification for employment” (with an expedited process) for the purpose of removing employment barriers and restrictions in a wide range of occupations.
  • Immunity for employers from negligent hiring or retention claims
  • Expanded opportunities for sealing of criminal and juvenile delinquency records.
  • Various modifications to juvenile court procedures and its dispositions, including places of detention, sealing of juvenile records, case transfers, etc.
  • Driver’s license changes—discretionary instead of mandatory suspension; payment of reinstatement fees in installments; reduced penalties for driving under suspension or for violating the state financial responsibility law; and elimination of requirement for suspension of license of any person who is named in a motor vehicle accident report that alleges that the person was uninsured at the time of the accident and the person then fails to give to the Registrar proof of financial responsibility; etc.
  • Creates a rebuttable presumption against a court or CSEA imputing income to an incarcerated or institutionalized parent when calculating child support
  • Adds a new child support imputation of income factor (militating against imputing income) for the parent’s decreased earning capacity because of a felony conviction.
  • Permits a court or CSEA, when calculating child support, to disregard a parent’s additional income form overtime or additional employment when the additional income was generated primarily to support a new or additional family member, or under other appropriate circumstances.
  • Requires a court or CSEA to collect information about preexisting child support orders for other children of the same parents when calculating a child support order to ensure that the total of all orders for the children of both parents does not exceed the amount that would have been ordered in a single order.
  • Permits a court, pursuant to a request made in a contempt action, to grant limited driving privileges to a person whose driver’s license is suspended because the person is in default under a child support order.
  • Creates a rebuttable presumption against a court or CSEA imputing income to an incarcerated or institutionalized parent when calculating child support.
  • Revises the rebuttable presumption against imputing income to a parent who is receiving means-tested public assistance benefits to limit the presumption to a parent who is receiving “monetary income” from means-tested public assistance benefits (e.g., OWF, DA, SSI and means-tested VA benefits).  This could mean that a parent’s receipt of Food Stamps would not trigger the presumption.

Although the last change might harm some low-income parents, the bill as a whole should greatly benefit many ex-offenders and/or low-income Ohioans.

Anyone with questions about SB 337 should feel free to contact attorney Michael Smalz of the Ohio Poverty Law Center at (614)824-2502 or msmalz@ohiopovertylaw.org.

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