Advocates making renewed push for Indiana to start program with partial unemployment benefits

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INDIANAPOLIS — Advocates for starting a statewide program allowing workers to receive partial unemployment benefits say they will make a new push for legislative approval of the work-share proposal.

Such work-sharing programs are already in place in nearly 30 other states, where businesses reach agreements with the state to reduce their employees' hours as an alternative to laying them off. Those workers could then receive unemployment compensation for their lost wages.

Similar proposals failed to advance during Indiana's past two legislative sessions, but Republican Rep. David Ober of Albion said he'll sponsor a bill during the upcoming 2016 session that would create an Indiana work-share program.

"You can hold on to your best workers during an economic slowdown when productivity may not be 100 percent," Ober told the Indianapolis Business Journal ( ). "These people keep their benefits and keep a percentage of their wage while they're on the program. Folks are able to continue to put food on the table."

Both the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and state AFL-CIO support the concept, but Gov. Mike Pence's administration has previously opposed it. Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks wouldn't say whether the governor would support it during the 2016 session, which starts in early January.

"In the past, we have had concerns about the potential for fraud and the costs of implementing such a program, and had not received sufficient information to allow us to feel comfortable with previous proposals," she said.

Mike Ripley, a vice president at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said he believed that some lawmakers' ideological concerns about a work-share program being an expansion of government has slowed support in the past.

"While it's a new program, it's less government, because we're not having people totally laid off and eligible for full-time unemployment," Ripley said. "It keeps money in the economy, and people get to keep their jobs."

Indiana AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Harris said the union has been supportive of the program in the past and likely will be again as long as the bill doesn't include provisions such as steps that could void a collective-bargaining agreement.

In 2012, the federal government offered states about $100 million in grant funding to adopt such programs.

Indiana's unemployment rate of 4.4 percent for October was far lower than the nearly 11 percent it reached in early 2010.

Democratic Rep. Karlee Macer of Indianapolis, who has been working with Ober on the bill, said she believes now is the perfect time to act.

"We hope this would never be needed," Macer said. "We want our state to be successful. It's the first thing we can do on the road to recovery to prevent job loss."

Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal,

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