The Senate Business and Commerce Committee is taking a look at how unemployment insurance works in Texas and what changes may need to be made. The committee began its work at the Texas Capitol today, March 24, 2004.
Diane Rath from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) led off the testimony by giving the committee members a brief overview of the current system and how it compares to similar systems in other states. In Texas, claimants can get unemployment compensation for up to 26 weeks, with the total amount depending on the individual worker's circumstances. Rath said that overall, claimants get between a third and half of their normal salary. Committee Chairman Troy Fraser asked whether the state could determine if people were working for just three months to be able to claim unemployment, to which Rath replied that yes, they work with the Attorney General to catch such abuses.
Ron Lehman, the TWC Commissioner representing employers, said that the agency could be doing a better job and that it continues to make payments to claimants while the appeal process is underway. This sometimes results in overpayments when the award to a claimant is overturned.
Bill Hammond, President of the Texas Association of Business, told the committee that the law should be changed so that overpayments cannot be retained, that the recipient must return the money. He also suggested hiring an outside firm to collect those funds.
Richard Levy of the AFL-CIO said that employers were not unduly burdened by unemployment insurance costs, and that while many people were indeed exhausting their benefits, this was partially due to the fact that many Texas counties have very high unemployment levels.
The Senate Business and Commerce Committee is Chaired by Senator Troy Fraser. Members include vice-chair Senator Kip Averitt, along with Senators Ken Armbrister, Kim Brimer, Craig Estes, Mike Jackson, Eddie Lucio Jr., Leticia Van de Putte and Tommy Williams. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.