There are a couple of "truths" you can count on when you look at Tennessee's state General Assembly. First of all, they'll do just about anything if it will get federal cash for the state. Secondly, they'll screw the poor every chance they get, especially if it aids the wealthy.
Yesterday, the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced a change in the amount of money to be paid to unemployed Tennesseans who have dependent children, eliminating the $15 per week allowance for each kid in the household. According to this morning's The Tennessean (motto: "Doing our best to keep you up to speed on the country music scene!") the new law will save the state $40 million a year.
Want to know how the state came to pay $15 per child to each unemployed person? Well, it all goes back to a bill the legislature passed in 2009 in order to qualify for $142 million in federal stimulus money. Now that the federal cash has petered out (due in large part to the GOP's refusal to accept any new stimulus plans in Washington) the state legislature in Nashville has decided to end the benefit program for the state's unemployed... even though the unemployment rate in Tennessee has climbed to 8.3 percent.
The unemployment trust fund was in danger of running out back in 2010, so the General Assembly increased the amount of wages subject to unemployment insurance taxes and increased those premiums, to boot. Today the trust fund is more than solvent, with nearly $800 million in reserve.
So why the push to reduce benefits for those out of work?
Because that money comes from the "job creators", that's why.
Here's what Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) had to say about it:
"That benefit was nice while it lasted and while it was being paid for with federal dollars," said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, a main sponsor of the bill to make the benefit changes.
"And we want to leave as much money in their hands as we can so they can create more jobs, which will reduce the unemployment rate and get these people off of unemployment compensation," he said.
Conversely, allowing the fund to be drawn down hurt the state's jobs picture, Johnson said.
"If we continue to make those payments for dependent children, it is going to potentially make our unemployment trust fund insolvent," he said. "Which means we're going to have to go and raise premium payments for employers ... putting an unfair burden on people who were creating jobs in the state."
Just a reminder: the unemployment trust fund is currently increasing, with no chance of becoming insolvent, due to the changes made to increase premiums on more taxable income. The only reason the state's GOP is pushing to remove the dependent child benefit is to leave more money in the fund, which would justify a reduction in premiums and a reduction in the amount of income taxed for unemployment insurance.
In other words, if all goes well, they can reduce the taxes currently being paid by businesses in the state, and balance the books on the backs of the unemployed.
But if you're a millionaire business owner paying your employees rock-bottom wages, doing your best to reduce all health care benefits, and making more money than you've ever made, that extra unemployment tax might keep you from "creating more jobs"...
Or buying that second home in the Florida keys.