Vital Unemployment Bill Passes Indiana House

The folllowing is a legislative update on HB 1450 regarding unemployment insurance:

Bill # and Title: HB 1450 – Unemployment Insurance
Author: Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington)

Summary: Establishes the weekly unemployment benefit amount as 47% of the individual’s prior average weekly wage. This is calculated by dividing an employee’s earnings during a year (regardless of how many weeks the employee has worked) by 52. Establishes the maximum weekly benefit amount at $390 (which is the current maximum). This change will not become effective until July 1, 2012. This means that people currently drawing unemployment benefits will see no change to their benefits. Places all employers into Rate Schedule E (a lower rate) for the years 2011-2020. Establishes a 13% surcharge for employers to pay into the unemployment insurance solvency fund in order to pay interest due on the outstanding balance of federal loans.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: The bill passed out of the House with 61 votes and was sent to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee for consideration.

Update/Chamber Action: In addition to working to get the bill passed in the Senate, the Indiana Chamber is also involved in researching the issue of whether bonds could be issued to pay off the loan to the federal government (a little over $2 billion was owed as of late January). Besides the possibility of getting a lower interest rate (currently the federal government is charging around 4% interest on the outstanding loan balance whereas the interest rate might fall to around 2-2.5% under a bond), if the loan was paid off then Indiana employers would not lose their federal credit toward the payment of their federal unemployment taxes. While unemployment insurance taxes will increase next year (and they must to help return the system to solvency), the Chamber-led shift to Schedule E rates will result in $2 billion in savings (over the intended new rates) for Hoosier employers over the next 10 years.

Unemployment Insurance System and Trust Fund Update

As of January 13, 2011, Indiana had borrowed almost $2 billion from the federal government in order to pay unemployment claims. What does this mean for Indiana employers? Under federal law, if a state has an outstanding loan balance on January 1 of two consecutive years and has not paid the balance by November 10 of the second year, employers will lose 0.3% of their federal unemployment tax credit for that year (Indiana first borrowed money in November 2008).

The federal unemployment tax is currently 6.2% on the first $7,000 of wages and employers get a credit of 5.4%, which means that employers pay 0.8% or $56 per employee to the federal government. With the loss of 0.3% of the credit, all Indiana employers will pay an additional $21 per employee to the federal government. This is estimated to cost Indiana employers around $58 million in 2011. Indiana employers will continue to see this 0.3% loss for the next two years under the current situation, so by 2013 employers will pay an additional $63 per employee (approximately $175 million total). This money goes to pay down the outstanding loan balance. Also, unless Congress takes action, Indiana will be obligated to pay interest on the loan. This is estimated to be around $75 million for 2011. This cannot be paid out of the state’s unemployment trust fund. Bottom line: Barring action by Indiana’s General Assembly this session, employers would have to also pay this amount through a special assessment.

Over the past several months, the Indiana Chamber has worked very closely with the governor’s office, the Department of Workforce Development and some key legislators to craft a solution to help Indiana employers. As it currently stands, Indiana employers will be subject to the tax rates in Rate Schedule B for this year and then move to Rate Schedule A, which contains the highest rates, next year. A preliminary bill draft has a provision that would put all Indiana employers into Rate Schedule E (with its lower tax rates) for the next several years. By doing this, the amount of money saved by employers having to pay less into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund will at least offset the increased amounts they will have to pay because of the loss of the federal credit and the payment of interest through a special assessment.

The Chamber has also been involved in promoting the idea of having bonds issued to raise money to pay off the federal loan. There would probably be interest savings, but the real benefit would be that Indiana employers would have their federal tax credit restored to the 5.4% level.