Social Security shouldn’t count against jobless benefitson May 2nd, 2011 at 6:00 am
Some retired people work, and they work not just to keep busy but to help pay for medicine, gas, housing and food. As working people, they continue to pay in to Social Security, and they can suffer layoffs just like younger workers.
But if seniors receiving Social Security get laid off, an archaic Illinois state law unfairly penalizes them by denying or reducing their unemployment benefits. It’s called the Social Security unemployment “offset” and it’s past time to overturn the measure.
Illinois is one of only two states in the nation that still have such a law – a law that not only makes things more difficult for older, unemployed workers, but a law that on its face discriminates against older Americans because workers and employers contribute to the system that treats seniors differently based on their age.
Now, however, two suburban lawmakers are trying to repeal the law that reduces how much elderly people can collect from unemployment when they’re receiving Social Security, and the measure’s bipartisan support includes key downstate lawmakers, too.
State Rep. Karen May, D-58th Dist., and State Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-53rd Dist.. are pushing the legislation, arguing that when the elderly choose to work in order to make ends meet, they shouldn’t be punished if they lose those jobs and become eligible for unemployment benefits.
Under current Illinois law, the Social Security money they receive counts against the unemployment benefits.
“After years of legislative stalemate, it’s time to bring relief to the thousands of Illinois seniors who have been unfairly impacted by the offset law,” said Mathias, representing the Buffalo Grove area.
House Bill 96, sponsored by May, who represents the Highland Park area, would repeal the provision in Illinois unemployment law that classifies half of an older adult’s Social Security payment as disqualifying income for purposes of jobless benefits. Her bill would allow eligible older workers the ability to receive the full unemployment benefits they are due.
Since its introduction in January, the legislation has attracted dozens of sponsors from both political parties. It’s supported by the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), and has the backing of the Woodstock Institute and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
Sadly, two powerful business lobbies in the state – the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce – oppose the measure, claiming that the state can’t afford to repeal the offset because Illinois’ unemployment fund is in debt.
May says the cost of the repeal is small.
Indeed, older adults receive Social Security benefits to which they are entitled because they have paid into the Social Security system. Again, older adults who receive Social Security payments must continue to work because they can’t otherwise survive financially just on Social Security – much less if it’s cut further as some Washington Republicans have suggested. For these seniors, losing jobs can be devastating and those circumstances are made much worse when their jobless benefits are reduced just because they also receive the Social Security for which they’re eligible.
Employers pay unemployment taxes for all of their workers, regardless of workers’ ages.
All workers should receive their full unemployment benefits, regardless of their age.
“Many older adults in Illinois are struggling to pay for basic necessities – and are working because they have to,” said Nancy Funk, an AARP-Illinois volunteer. “To penalize these workers after they become unemployed simply because of their age is unfair and clearly wrong.”
The Social Security “offset” rule related to unemployment benefits was originally established by federal law. However, 48 of the 50 states took action to repeal it. Illinois and Louisiana are the only states that have yet to take action to repeal this lousy law that penalizes jobless seniors who receive Social Security.
“It’s time to repeal the unfair and discriminatory Social Security offset law that denies seniors unemployment benefits simply because of their age,” said State Senator Heather Steans, D-7th Dist. “This is simply wrong.”
May, the original sponsor, says she hopes the repeal will pass this year, but despite having Republican Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Democrat Jehan Gordon of Peoria on board, the bill seems stuck. After being assigned to the Labor Committee in February, the bill since March 17 has been in the Rules Committee. It’s a five-member committee with three Democrats (including Rep. Lou Lang, 16th Dist., a co-sponsor since Feb. 8); Peoria Republican David Leitch is one of two Rules Committee members from the GOP. One wonders whether the influential Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Manufacturers are collaring legislators to the detriment of older Illinoisans.
“We need to end this age discrimination right now,” May said. “More and more seniors have to work to make ends meet, especially during this recession. Losing a job can be devastating to seniors as well as any citizen.”