No triple-dipping for state retirees
Some state lawmakers want to pass a draconian rewrite of the unemployment compensation laws that would harm laid-off workers who have no control over the economic conditions that have put them out of work.
But the process has, at least, revealed a situation specific to retired state employees that should be rectified.
A state employee who has retired may work for the state government as a contract employee for up to 95 days a year and continue to collect his pension. The state often uses the practice to allow experienced workers to train their replacements or participate in special projects.
During 2010 and 2011, more than 1,600 retired employees worked for the state under individual contracts that provided them with state-generated income in addition to their state pensions.
About 450 of those workers applied for state unemployment benefits after their 95-day contracts ended. They received an additional $2.1 million in benefits, even though they could not work as contractors beyond the 95 days without giving up their pension benefits.
Thus, the workers achieved the rare triple-dip: state pension, state contract, unemployment benefits.
This scenario directly contradicts the purpose of unemployment compensation to the point of turning it on its head. The objective is to support people who have been laid off, not to reward people who deliberately limit their employment to 95 days in order to preserve another benefit.
Given the scope of the state/federal unemployment program, $2.1 million is a rounding error. It is, however, $2.1 million that could go to workers legitimately in need of the assistance.
A state House committee has approved a bill that would end the practice. The Legislature should pass it and use it as a model for other unemployment compensation legislation, which should target specific, proven abuses rather than further punishing workers who already have lost their only jobs.