Family caregivers could qualify for unemployment

The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Jan. 28 on a bill that would expand eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Currently, a person who voluntarily leaves employment with “good cause” is eligible for unemployment benefits under employment security law. LB306, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would add leaving employment to care for a family member with a serious health condition to the existing list of good cause reasons.

Crawford said an AARP study found that over 65 million Americans are acting as caregivers, with 10 percent of those leaving work to do so. Caregivers who leave employment lose an average of $304,000 in wages over their lifetime, she said.

“This would help ease the burden shouldered by Nebraskans looking to reenter the workforce after caring for family,” Crawford said. “It would provide a safety net to allow caregivers to put food on the table while they look for their next job.”

Jina Ragland, representing AARP Nebraska, spoke in favor of LB306. A traumatic medical incident like a stroke or broken hip can create an urgent need for care, she said, often making it difficult for a family caregiver to make long-term practical and financial plans.

“Family caregiving concerns do and will continue to have an increasing impact on employment because of the growing aging population,” Ragland said. “While many families face a work/family conflict … what makes elder care especially challenging is that its onset and duration is [unpredictable].”

Opposing the measure was Ron Sedlacek, representing the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. He said unemployment benefits are intended to assist people who are between jobs and actively searching for work, not those who have chosen to take time off from working.

“[Unemployment] is an insurance program aimed at people with strong work histories who become unemployed through no fault of their own,” Sedlacek said. “It was never the intention of the system to provide benefits to people unable to return to work right away.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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