Monday, July 12, 2010

He says ... Department of Workforce improves jobless system

Bluffton Today

Today I want to complete my remarks, begun last week in this space, on the reform of the Employment Security Commission (ESC) and the creation of the Department of Workforce.

First, allow me to express my gratitude to my good friend, Professor Bob Dickson, over at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, for the opportunity to speak with his government class. They were energetic, attentive and inquisitive and listened politely to my prepared remarks before making me earn my lunch with a raft of great questions.

Since they were in government class, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that the questions were well formed and spoke to the pressing issues of the day, as well as a few that were on larger, more general topics. I think I did pretty well, but as usual, I learned more than I imparted.

It is particularly valuable for me to hear the concerns of those just entering the job market, especially as we have just been through one of the toughest economic downturns in recent memory. These folks don’t want the government to take care of them, but if they have unemployment insurance through the state, they have every right to expect that it be run efficiently and fairly if they have occasion to use that insurance. That is precisely why we in the General Assembly passed a general reform measure creating a new Department of Workforce to mandate efficiency and fairness for those seeking unemployment benefits, especially since they and their employers have paid for that coverage.

After years of uncertainty and confusion at the ESC, the new Department of Workforce provides clear solvency targets for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (UITF) used to provide the benefits paid to the unemployed. It establishes new requirements for the contributions that the state’s employers make to the fund. It is something of abalancing act to anticipate exactly the level of funding we will need to take care of our financial obligations in this area. We certainly don’t want to take dollars from employers that could be used to create more jobs or create growth. By the same token, we can’t find ourselves in the position of having made promises we can’t keep to those who may have lost jobs.

With this in mind, the legislation establishes requirements for the Department of Workforce to calculate an annual contribution rate for each qualified employer that is based on aranking system which divides the employers into 20 benefit ratio classes, and any county in which the UITF is not solid, the state will impose a surcharge on all employers to pay interest on the outstanding debt. The estimated amount of interest to be paid in the year will be divided by the estimated tax role for the calendar year. All of this will be amatter of public record.

There is also an incident monitoring system whereby we can get a better idea of who is being discharged and why. The new system design is more rational, keeps better records, and should provide better service. It should also inspire more confidence in the state’s ability to do a creditably job in an area that had much room for improvement.