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OPINION AND EDITORIAL

HISTORIC UNINSURANCE REFORM
Good for families and businesses

February 22, 2011




State Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Clark County) is the Speaker Pro Tempore in the Washington State House of Representatives. He lives in Clark County and represents southwestern Washington’s 49th Legislative District. CLICK TO ENLARGE
By State Rep. Jim Moeller

Just the other morning in the House of Representatives, we approved major reform in our state’s unemployment-insurance (UI) system – and we approved it unanimously, to boot.

The legislation sends an historical, much-needed hand to jobless workers, and well-timed tax relief to struggling businesses.

It will afford solid opportunities for unemployed citizens to support their families and learn vital new job skills. Just as importantly, the reform will provide solid opportunities for hard-hit businesses to grow and survive in this relentless global recession.

Although not quite unanimously (there were four No votes), the Senate also endorsed this helping hand for thousands of Washington families.

Now freshly signed by the governor, the measure slashes unemployment taxes for 90 percent of our state’s employers. This amounts to a business-savings of more than $300 million in 2011 alone.

Here are some key points in the landmark legislation:

* The bill makes training programs more accessible for citizens searching for work, allowing them to learn new skills and build better resumes for job-searches in high-demand fields.

* The bill makes sure that Washington’s unemployed workers can also qualify for extended benefits passed by Congress last December.

* The bill makes workers laid off during the rest of 2011 eligible for a temporary $25 bump in weekly assistance.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that for every dollar invested in UI benefits, two bucks goes straight into the local economy.

Know this: Unemployment benefits are among the best kinds of economic stimulus because recipients immediately spend this assistance – thus getting the money right back into circulation. That’s why the economic impact of unemployment benefits is magnified here in Washington.

In fact, our state is home to the healthiest UI system in the country. After a two-year recession and unemployment persisting above nine percent, our system is still well-funded enough to afford this significant reform for businesses.

Contrast ours with the insolvent UI systems in 30 other states – a situation that’s forcing them to borrow billions of dollars from the federal government.

In 2010, our UI system created more than $8.6 billion in purchasing power. Where? Right on Main Street, that’s where. Smack dab in the middle of Anytown, Washington, including:

* $127 million in Benton County.

* $212 million in Whatcom County.

* $221 million in Yakima County.

* $260 million in Thurston County.

* $383 million in Clark County.

* $499 million in Spokane County.

* More than $1 billion each in Pierce and Snohomish counties.

* More than $2.5 billion in King County.

This reform we’ve launched is part and parcel of our mission to work for one Washington – a Washington where everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to earn success.

Our UI plan emphasizes the fact that America’s Evergreen State is neither “business Washington,” nor “labor Washington.” We’re “One Washington – period.”

Every one of us should have a straight-up chance to earn our dreams.

The reform is good for workers who were laid off because of the global recession – and who want nothing more than to get back on the job. A temporary boost in benefits helps them pay the bills.

Improved training benefits sends us $98 million in federal money, providing qualified folks an opportunity to acquire good new skills to acquire good new careers.

The reform is good for businesses because the nearly $300-million tax break for nine in every 10 of our state’s companies creates jobs from Bellevue to Bellingham, from Seattle to Selah, from Colville to Coupeville, from Yakima to Yacolt, from – well, you get the picture. You don’t have to own a Nobel Prize in economics to see that more customers spending more money more often means – yes! – more profits.

The reform is good for the economy because it comes via a balanced approach. And speaking of balance, our $2.4 billion trust-fund balance bestows us the ability to afford this tax break – even as other states face the demand to raise their rates. Getting people back on their feet is a smart investment, no matter how you look at it.

An unremitting recession will leave us precious few chances in the budget to actually strengthen our social safety net.

That makes this UI reform a shrewd resource we’d be loopy to leave untapped. For sure, unemployment insurance is the ultimate safety net that has rescued many of us at one time or another.

No, it’s certainly not some measly academic exercise, some arcane government program to which few folks have actually turned.

Yes, there are too many thousands of unemployed working men and women right now in our towns and counties frantically seeking work.

Creating real jobs for real people – I believe that’s our No. 1 job here in Olympia.

You bet we have an important responsibility to invest tax dollars wisely – to count every public bean, if you will. But our underlying mission, the bond that makes us one Washington is our duty to make every family count.


State Rep. Jim Moeller is the Speaker Pro Tempore in the Washington State House of Representatives. He lives in Clark County and represents southwestern Washington’s 49th Legislative District. Moeller, a Democrat, is a member of the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee, the House Rules Committee, and the House Transportation Committee.

Received via email Feb. 17, 2011





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