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Nebraska senators advance bill qualifying family caregivers for unemployment benefits

Nebraska senators advance bill qualifying family caregivers for unemployment benefits

LINCOLN — Nebraskans forced to quit a job to care for a seriously ill family member could get unemployment benefits under a bill advanced by state lawmakers Tuesday.

Legislative Bill 260, introduced by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, would add family caregiving to the list of “good cause” reasons for leaving a job. The bill cleared first-round consideration on a 27-11 vote.

The measure would make caregivers eligible for unemployment benefits while looking for a new job that fits with their family duties. The bill would apply to workers caring for spouses, parents, children, grandchildren, siblings or in-laws with serious health conditions.

“This is a situation that any of us could face one day,” Hunt said, describing the bill as a “safety net” for people not covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

The federal act requires employers to provide unpaid leave for family caregivers but only applies to employers with 50 or more workers.

Under LB 260, employers would not be charged for benefits paid to employees who quit because of caregiving demands. Workers could get benefits only if they had made reasonable efforts to work out conflicts between their jobs and their caregiving before quitting.

Those provisions helped Hunt get 24 co-sponsors for the bill and satisfy potential opposition.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business testified neutral at this year’s public hearing. Both groups opposed a similar bill that was introduced two years ago by former Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue.

Crawford’s bill failed on final reading after opponents raised concerns about the inclusion of domestic partners.

Although the changes to LB 260 addressed outside opposition, some state lawmakers raised concerns.

Sen. Mike Moser of Columbus said the cost of paying unemployment benefits to caregivers could add to the unemployment tax rates paid by all employers, even if individual employers are not held responsible.

“We don’t want to put an extra burden on them,” he said, arguing that workers should negotiate with their employers about accommodating their caregiving duties.

But Hunt said the state’s unemployment trust fund holds more than $500 million now. The Department of Labor estimated the cost of unemployment benefits for caregivers at about $750,000 a year.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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