The GOP war on the unemployed in the Arizona Lege

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Unemployment benefits are provided by state unemployment insurance programs within guidelines established by Federal law. Eligibility for unemployment insurance, benefit amounts and the length of time benefits are available are determined by state law (approved under federal guidelines).

Arizona's unemployment law is based on the public policy that involuntary employment "is a serious menace to health, morals and welfare of the people of this state." A.R.S. §23-601. The law has always contained a public policy preference that workers are entitled to receive unemployment insurance compensation unless otherwise disqualified.

Disqualification from benefits typically involves (a) a voluntary resignation (there are exceptions for justifiable resignations for compelling personal reaons), and (b) discharge for misconduct in connection with the work (this is a legal term of art defined by regulations and case law).

Under Arizona law, the burden of proof has always been on the employer to establish disqualification from unemployment insurance benefits. The public policy reason for this is that the employer enjoys control over employment records (proprietary information). Employees are not entitled to records in their employee file (several bills to give employees a right to documents in their employee file have failed in the Arizona legislature).

This is the way it has always been. Now comes along  Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who wants to change this burden of proof by shifting the burden to the unemployed worker, adding insult to the injury of being unemployed. Petersen wants the worker to prove that he or she is eligible to receive benefits, rather than the employer prove that the worker is ineligible.

This is a major change in the long-standing public policy behind unemployment insurance, and gives unscrupulous employers an unfair advantage to deny workers unemployment benefits to which they are entitled. Howard Fischer reports, Arizona House gives preliminary approval to bill making jobless prove eligibility for aid:

Saying the measure would help fight fraud, state lawmakers voted Wednesday to impose new burdens on some people seeking unemployment insurance.

The bill, HB 2147, would require people applying for benefits to provide documentation that they are eligible, and if they don't provide that information, their benefits could be denied. Only those who lose their employment through no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment payments.

The House's preliminary approval on a voice vote came despite warnings by Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, that the change could put Arizona in violation of federal laws. She said those laws generally require the employer seeking to deny benefits to prove that the worker quit of his or her own volition and was not fired or laid off.

That approval is crucial: The U.S. Labor Department pays for the entire $35 million annual cost of administering the state unemployment insurance program. The levy on employers covers only the actual benefits paid.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, did not dispute that the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which runs the unemployment program, has not yet gotten approval of his change.

But he said this proposal is a watered-down version of his original measure, which would have allowed an employer's claim of job abandonment, even if only verbal, to be enough to deny benefits until the worker proved otherwise.

His original proposal also did not make allowances for the possibility that all the records were in the hands of the employer. Now, his bill would require the worker to produce contravening documents only if he or she has the actual ability. [Say what now?]

* * *

Petersen cited testimony from business owners, notably restaurants, who said workers are quitting after a couple of weeks, claiming they were let go and then collecting jobless benefits "without an opportunity for the employer to demonstrate otherwise."

"It is a substantial amount of fraud and abuse that is going on," added Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

OK, I am calling bullshit. I have handled dozens and dozens of UI claims for unemployment benefits over the years, and I have never seen the situation described. Is there any statistical data to prove a "substantial amount of fraud," or is this just some raving from a Restaurant Association lobbyist making unsubstantiated claims? What does DES say about this claim of a "substantial amount of fraud"? DES keeps records of claims denied for fraud. Is there a DES audit? C'mon Howie, are you just a stenographer for teabagger legislators?

Sadly, the AZ House OK'd bill requiring workers to prove unemployment eligibility | Arizona Capitol Times. Thursday’s 36-23 party-line vote sends the bill to the Senate. Contact your state senator to oppose this malicious anti-worker bill. It has the potential to put federal funding of the state’s Unemployment Insurance program in jeopardy for all workers.

0 responses to “The GOP war on the unemployed in the Arizona Lege

  1. Smells like ALEC to me.