Business, labor say inaction leaves unemployment debt burden

LITTLE ROCK (Arkansas News Bureau) -- The Legislature's failure to significantly address the state's nearly $200 million recession-era unemployment debt to the federal government leaves the burden on businesses and workers to cover the cost, labor and management representatives say.

Businesses pay higher unemployment taxes to help retire the debt. For laid-off workers, unemployment checks reflect benefit limits enacted two years ago. Checks would have been even less in the coming months if a bill to lower the maximum weekly benefit by $125 had not failed during the legislative session.

Four of six bills designed to address the debt payment and replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, while easing the burden on employers, were approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mike Beebe during the recent session.

Montine McNulty, director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, which supported the six bills, said her organization wanted lawmakers to do more. So did Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, but he was pleased that a pair of proposals that would affect workers failed.

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