Monday, the House approved a bill that would change some school workers eligibility for unemployment benefits.
The sponsor of House Bill 714 says it addresses a loophole that costs the state up to $10 million annually.
According to Representative Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming) private firms providing bus drivers and other school workers are under–paying the employees, while encouraging them to apply for unemployment benefits during the summer and other school breaks.
“They turn around and tell them they're going to pay them less money, but we're going to supplement that by helping you get the unemployment benefits said Hamilton. “ And so they're just gaming the system is the easiest way I can say it.”
He says the companies should not be allowed to burden the state.
“They're actually coaching their employees on how to file for unemployment, and even stating that they get to keep all their additional benefits. And so these companies are knowingly coaching these employees.”
But Democratic leaders such as Representative Al Williams (D-Midway) said the bill unfairly targets low–income workers, some of them recognized as heroes for protecting children during the last snow storm.
“Two weeks ago, we lifted these folk up for staying up all night long to see about our children and the heroic things they did,” said Williams. “ And so we thank them two weeks later by saying you're off...outta here!”
Opposing lawmakers say the school bus drivers and other workers have few options for other employment.
Rep. Stacey Abrams (D–Atlanta) says the bill just transfers costs to other parts of the state and will be an extra burden to areas that will have to pick up the expenses.
“We're shifting the cost to the food bank in your county, or worse, to your county– your county, that will have to come up with the extra dollars to pay for those folks who don't have a job and don't have access to unemployment benefits.”