by Max Brantley
The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee fell short on a roll call vote today of reducing unemployment benefits.
The bill by Sen. Bart Hester would have sliced maximum possible benefits from $451 to $325 a week. The reduction would have cut the bottom benefit by 10 percent, but no lower than $81 a week. Most unemployed don't make the maximum. There was testimony that the average unemployment benefit in Arkansas is about $260 a week. But representatives of the restaurant and hotel business said that benefits in Arkansas were higher than in surrounding states and a benefit cut would help restore the insurance fund. Employers have been paying a higher unemployment insurance rate to cover a loan from the federal government necessary when the recession drained the fund. Unemployed workers and union officials opposed the reduction on behalf of families that need the money but also saying the money served as economic stimulus when recipients spent it.