Unemployment Benefits For Losers

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 22, 2010
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“There ought to be a law” is a phrase often heard from disgruntled voters. In this case, I’m sure there is already a law, but it’s one of those most people are unaware of, especially people who run for public office. The question is, if an incumbent is running for re-election and is defeated, is he or she eligible for unemployment insurance and other benefits?

I’m pretty sure it’s not a question that sits on the front burners for most politicians running for reelection. Adecade ago, unemployment insurance benefits were very much on the minds of elected members in both chambers of our Legislature. The concern was the difficulty in finding qualified individuals. The way the law was written back then, it didn’t run enough days to warrant unemployment benefits at the end of the legislative session. Most qualified legislative workers were not willing to quit their jobs and, after four months, be unemployed.

In the good old days, there was a time limit for workers to be on the job before they qualified for unemployment benefits. The solution was simple: The Legislature passed a law that technically extended the session legally. All they had to do was pass a law that extended the halfway recess by a couple of weeks. The reason given was it allowed more time for legislative lobbyists and media to go over the hundred of bills sitting in neat piles in the basement of the Capitol. When there are several hundred bills to be visited, the extra time was a blessing for the public and special-interest groups.

It was one of those “there ought to be a law” moments that actually produced the intended consequences and seasoned legislative helpers have been happy with the law ever since.

This year, an unusual number of candidates ran for re-election but didn’t make it. Is it possible that another law will be passed to accommodate incumbents who are defeated at the polls?

The law is pretty vague, but, for civilians, if you are fired, you’re eligible for unemployment compensation and, in certain circumstances, for many months. Of course, this is probably poor timing, because the state had to borrow $17 million from the federal government so it can continue to pay unemployment benefits. We are not alone. Thirty-two other states have received similar loans. Like most of Hawaii’s labor laws, they are not the same across the nation, and unemployment insurance is a good example.

Many incumbents who were defeated have already applied for unemployment insurance benefits. Whether they receive them and when is the question. There is an additional question. If a candidate who is running for re-election is defeated in the election, has he or she technically been fired by their employers (voters) and automatically qualified for unemployment benefits? Like workers’ compensation, it is a benefit paid for by the employers.

It could probably be argued quite convincingly that the voters are employers of elected officials. But I’m not sure everyone in government will agree.

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. If it’s denied, there’s a good possibility it could be challenged in court. In either case, it’s an interesting political scenario to contemplate for future elections.

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