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Friday, October 21, 2011 - 12:07pm

Jobless Benefit Cuts Proposed

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler is proposing cuts in some unemployment benefits next year. That would allow the state to repay a $700 million federal loan it took out to keep the unemployment trust fund afloat. Critics say the state should instead ask employers to contribute.

The cuts would only affect newly unemployed workers who receive the highest payouts.

As part of the plan, the state would reduce payments to those workers by $30 a week to $300. It may also limit payment checks to 20 weeks.

State lawmakers will have to vote on the proposal when they reconvene in January.

About 60,000 Georgians receive state unemployment benefits. Businesses contribute to the unemployment trust fund that pays for jobless benefits. And critics say that's who the state should look to now.

Clare Richie, with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, says the state allowed many employers to skip contributions to the unemployment benefits fund over the years, and as a result, drained the trust fund. She says it isn't a question of spending too much but rather not taking in enough revenue.

“Our benefits in our state are extremely low," she said. "We rank near the bottom when you look at duration of benefits, amount of benefits. So to be even looking at benefits is bad policy.”

Instead, Richie says employers need to make larger contributions now.

Butler made the proposal to lawmakers on Thursday. No one from the labor department was available for comment on Friday.