MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate voted Thursday to reduce the number of weeks that a person can receive jobless benefits, linking the time to the local unemployment rate.
Senators voted 21-8 for the bill. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.
The proposal reduces the maximum unemployment benefit period from 26 weeks to 14 weeks when the unemployment rate in the person’s county is at or below 6.5 percent. When the rate is higher, People could get a maximum of 20 weeks, depending upon the unemployment rate. Unemployed individuals could also get another five weeks by enrolling in job training.
The bill also raises the maximum benefit by about $40 per month.
The state’s jobless rate was 3.5 percent in December, but the rate varies from county to county. Lawmakers concerned about the disparity added an amendment so the benefit time is linked to the county rate, and not the state average.
Republican Sen. Arthur Orr, the bill’s sponsor, said the move follows other states that have gone to flexible programs.
“This brings us in line with a lot of other Southeastern states that we’re competing with for larger scale projects,” Orr, R-Decatur, said.
Orr said the change would collectively save businesses between $50 million and $60 million each year.
“Most individuals always find a job well before the 26-week period,” Orr said.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman, who opposed the bill, said it would take money from people who need it.
“To me that’s unconscionable,” Smitherman said.
“Even if it’s 3 percent unemployment, those people who are the three percent need the full benefits,” Smitherman said.
This story has been corrected to show that time is linked to county, not state, unemployment rate.