As reported by Ebru News             Feb 19,2011 

WASHINGTON (AP) – State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.

“Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate,” federal auditors said in a 1988 report.

It’s clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.

The ramifications will be felt for years.

In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.

In the long term, state will have to replenish their unemployment insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes, leaving companies with less money to invest.

Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001 recession.

But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington.

The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of boosting depleted trust funds.

Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department manages the trust funds that hold each state’s taxes.

Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began.

Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower than at any time in the program’s history when adjusted for inflation, the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when compared with average weekly wages.

“If you look at it from the employers’ standpoint, they’re not going to want reserves to build up excessively high because then there’s an increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the high reserves and say, ‘We can afford to increase benefits,”‘ said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.

In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.

Republican Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.

“The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reasoIt was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,” Butler said. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15 years and helps explain why the state’s trust fund dropped from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

“It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund to make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times,” said Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “In good economic times you build up your bank account, but in New Jersey, they said, ‘Well, we have all this money, let’s spend it.”‘

California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.

Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.

“We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn’t passed to increase revenue,” Levy said.

California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of $362 million by the end of September.

In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994 through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112 million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.

Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an approach called “pay-as-you-go.” Texas is a nationally recognized leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it’s better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3 billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.

“By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of jobs and stimulation of economic growth,” said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the mid-1990s.

“It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing down of reserves during recessions,” said the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.

Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said there’s no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes against one of the original aims of the program – to act as an economic stabilizer in bad times. That’s because businesses are asked to pay more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.

A survey from Hobbies’ organization found that 35 states raised their state unemployment taxes last year.

Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle out of complacency.

“I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn’t experience the bad recessions we had in, say the mid ’70s, and then this big surprise hit,” he said.

JEANNINE AVERSA | 12/22/10 11:23 AM | AP

WASHINGTON — Expectations for economic growth next year are turning more optimistic now that Americans will have a little more cash in their pockets.

A cut in workers’ Social Security taxes and rising consumer spending have led economists to predict a strong start for 2011.

Still, most people won’t feel much better until employers ramp up hiring and people buy more homes.

Analysts are predicting economic growth next year will come in next year close to 4 percent. It would mark an improvement from the 2.8 percent growth expected for this year and would be the strongest showing since 2000.

“Looking ahead, circumstances are ripe for the economy to develop additional traction,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. in New York. He is estimating growth for 2011 to be above 3.5 percent.

The economy grew at a moderate pace last summer, reflecting stronger spending by businesses to replenish stockpiles, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Gross domestic product increased at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. That’s up from the 2.5 percent pace estimated a month ago. While businesses spent more to build inventories, consumers spent a bit less.

Many analysts predict the economy strengthened in the October-December quarter. They think the economy is growing at a 3.5 percent pace or better mainly because consumers are spending more freely again.

Still, the housing market remains a drag on the slowly improving economy.

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that more people bought previously owned homes rose in November. The sales pace rose 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million units. Even with the gain, sales are still well below what analysts consider a healthy pace.

Even if analysts are right about 2011 being a better year for the economy, growth still wouldn’t be strong enough to dramatically lower the 9.8 percent unemployment rate.

By some estimates, the economy would need to grow by 5 percent for a full year to push down the unemployment rate by a full percentage point. Even with growth at around 4 percent, as many analysts predict, the unemployment rate is still expected to hover around 9 percent.

The third-quarter’s performance marks an improvement from the feeble 1.7 percent growth logged in the April-June quarter. The economy’s growth slowed sharply then. Fears about the European debt crisis roiled Wall Street and prompted businesses to limit their spending.

“It sure looks like the `soft patch’ is over,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

In the third quarter, greater spending by businesses on replenishing their stocks was the main factor behind the slight upward revision to GDP.

Consumers boosted their spending at a 2.4 percent pace. That was down from a 2.8 percent growth rate previously estimated. Even so, consumers increased their spending at the fastest pace in four years. The slight downward revision reflected less spending on health care and financial services than previously estimated.

More recent reports from retailers, however, show that shoppers are spending at a greater rate in the final months of the year.

Companies are discounting merchandise to lure shoppers. A price gauge tied to the GDP report showed that prices – excluding food and energy – rose at a 0.5 percent pace in the third quarter, the slowest quarterly pace on records going back to 1959.

Americans have more reasons to be confident. Stock prices are rising, helping Americans regain vast losses in wealth suffered during the recession. Job insecurity remains a problem, but the hiring market is slowly improving. And loans aren’t as difficult to obtain for those with solid credit histories.

Even with the improvements, though, consumers are showing some restraint. In the past, lavish spending by consumers propelled the economy to grow at a rapid pace. After the 1981-1982 recession, the economy expanded at a 9.3 percent clip. Consumers increased their spending at an 8.2 percent pace.

Consumers have yet to display that level of confidence in the economy. While hiring is improving, employers still aren’t adding enough jobs to lower the unemployment rate.

Even with stronger economic growth anticipated for next year, analysts predict it will still take until near the end of this decade to drop unemployment back down to a more normal 5.5 percent to 6 percent level.

The government’s estimate of GDP in the July-September quarter was its third and final one. The government makes a total of three estimates for any given quarter. Each new reading is based on more complete information. GDP measures the value of all goods and services – from machinery to manicures – produced within the United States.

N.J. businesses’ unemployment taxes expected to skyrocket in next year

By Lisa Fleisher/Statehouse Bureau

December 30, 2009, 7:32PM

NJ-UNEMPLOYMENT-TRUST-FUND.jpgJames Bellis is already in a bind.

As an employer, he pays higher state unemployment taxes than many because he lays off about a dozen workers from his tree maintenance business every winter.

But next year, he expects to be forced into a deeper hole. Businesses will likely see their unemployment taxes skyrocket in July — and not come down for years — because the fund is broke.

It’s almost more than Bellis can handle, after seeing a 23 percent drop this year at Tree Tech, his Randolph business.

“In this economy, every dollar is valuable to managing a business,” he said.

Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s administration says the unemployment fund is one of the top three financial problems it will face when it takes over on Jan. 19.

“It’s a very serious problem, and, frankly, it’s as serious of any of the state’s fiscal problems,” said Rich Bagger, Christie’s chief of staff.

The fund has been strained by a persistent unemployment rate of close to 10 percent, but legislators and national observers say the problems stem from years of pillaging by lawmakers during better times to pay for other projects.

Because the fund is insolvent, employers will see an automatic tax hike in July, which could translate into businesses paying between $300 and $1,100 more per worker to bring $1 billion more to the state, according to the state Labor Department.

But even that will not stop the fund’s deficit from increasing fivefold, from $926 million now to $4.5 billion by the end of April 2011. New Jersey is one of 25 states that has borrowed money, interest-free through 2010, from the federal government.

The situation puts Christie in an unpleasant position, because he has promised no tax increases, because the hike is baked into the unemployment system. It automatically adjusts the tax rate based on the fund’s balance and an employer’s individual history of layoffs.

The tax hike could work against an economic recovery, causing businesses to hire fewer people, lay off workers or freeze or lower salaries, said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

“This is a serious increase in costs for employers,” he said. “They have to figure out some way to cover that cost.”

The tax increase comes at the worst time for businesses, said Art Maurice with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

“Employers are struggling to keep people working that they have on their payrolls now,” he said. “Now to add an across-the-board (unemployment insurance) payroll tax increase on top of that would just be backbreaking.”

Bagger said the administration must look at all possible options to revive the once-flush fund that now supports more than 175,000 New Jersey residents. The choices include:

• Pushing legislation to put off or reduce the tax increase. The downside is that increases debt.

• Reducing benefits to bring them more “in line” with other states. Democrats and worker advocates will fight that change.

• Finding $1.9 billion for the fund. But from where? Gov. Jon Corzine just cut $839 million in spending to deal with a nearly $1 billion current budget deficit, and the Christie team projects it will be $9.5 billion short for next year’s budget.

• Teaming with other states to ask the federal government to forgive loans.

Lawmakers have known this was coming for years. Over the last two years, Corzine pushed off similar tax increases on employers by putting $380 million from the general fund into the unemployment fund.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects 40 states’ funds to become insolvent by 2011.

Already, 25 states and the Virgin Islands have borrowed more than $25 billion from the federal government to pay claims, not including extended benefits paid for by the federal government. New Jersey started borrowing in March and now owes more than $926 million. The biggest borrower, California, owes $5.9 billion. Michigan owes $3 billion and New York owes $2 billion. The states’ problems are not unprecedented. In the 1970s and ‘80s, states borrowed regularly from the federal government, but loans at that time were interest-free. This time around, loans are interest-free only though 2010

State lawmakers around the country are scrambling to deal with the problem.

New Hampshire, for example, has instituted a one-week waiting period to get benefits and increased the portion of salary taxed. Indiana in April saw thousands of union workers protesting cuts the governor there called “Rolls-Royce” benefits. And 10 states are already making employers pay their system’s highest tax rate, which is what New Jersey is scheduled to do.

New Jersey legislators disagree about how to solve the problem.

New Jersey has one of the highest weekly benefits — $584, compared with $405 in New York and $566 in Pennsylvania — and it will automatically increase to $600 for newly laid off workers who receive their first benefit check after the New Year.

It also is one of a handful of states to allow people to collect checks the first week they are unemployed — instead of waiting a week — and which allows increased benefits for people with children, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Advocates say this is because it costs so much to live here.

Still, some legislators say the state can’t afford to categorically leave out options.

“Everything should be on the table,” said Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Burlington), who said the solution to the fund’s problem needed to be worked out with a comprehensive approach to fixing the economy. “The decisions that are going to have to be made are going to anger people.”

The very suggestion has drawn sharp words from some legislators and advocates.

“Given the dire situation it’s just mean-spirited,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex.) “I think that it would be unconscionable, given the current state of affairs, to decrease benefits. We’re talking about people keeping a roof over their heads and keeping food on the table.”

An alternative approach, offered by state Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), is to let the pot just replenish itself.

“These funds have to build up, and they can’t build up overnight,” he said.

To be sure, even the more generous features are not what caused the fund to fail. The major source of the problem, critics say, is not even the recession, but rather the $4.7 billion siphoned from the 1990s through 2006 by governors and legislators from both parties to pay for things such as health care for the poor.

“Unemployment wasn’t so long-term back then,” said Buono, who supported the diversions. “Given the set of alternatives that we had and the cuts that were made, this was not anything that any individual legislators wanted to do but … I think it was something that needed to be done at the time.”

The unemployment fund kept growing, reaching $3.1 billion by the end of 2001. But even after the balance slipped, plunging to $1.5 billion by the end of 2003, governors and legislators continued to scoop up money before it hit the fund, until Corzine stopped the practice in 2006.

The state has started to take steps to prevent that from happening again. In November, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would prevent the Legislature from diverting money.

As an employer, Stephen Fauer wouldn’t mind that his environmental services business needs to pay higher taxes to contribute to the state’s bankrupt unemployment fund.

“If someone puts their hand out and asks, ‘Help me,’ you don’t say, ‘No,’” said Fauer, who owns Environmental Strategies and Applications in Middlesex. “That’s the kind of tax I pay not necessarily with a smile on my face, but not with a heavy heart.”

What bothers Fauer is the reason he will likely have to pay more.

“It’s the irresponsibility of our politicians,” he said. “Doing things for expediency rather than things that are correct. You need to behave in a way that’s correct. You need to behave in a way that’s responsible.”


How it works

Employers and employees both contribute to the fund. But employees put in a small, fixed amount, whereas employers pay the lion’s share of the tax – and the amount they pay varies.

The system taxes employers based partially on how much money is in the fund, and partially based on their history of laying off workers.

But there’s another factor: All employers are affected by how much money is in the unemployment pot. If the balance sinks too low, taxes go up for everybody, which is happening this year.

Our Perspective:

Did you Know:

Unemployment is the 2nd highest US Government Employer Mandated Tax!!

 Why is it, that something that is ranked so high, stirs so little questions?

Many employers just see it as a cost of doing business.

Did you know that the unemployment tax is the only tax that you can have a say as to what your rate is?

How do you know if your current unemployment rate is correct?

When is the last time you asked that question?

Did you know that the state of NJ has a 12% error rate in the payment of unemployment claims?

If they are paying claims incorrectly, that means they are taking too much money out of your account and that your rate may be incorrect!

Unemployment is a very basic concept:

Each company basically has a checking account with the state to pay for unemployment claims.

The state assigns a rate to each company, which determines what percentage of payroll is paid into this checking account to help pay for claims.

The state then notifies you how much money was taken out of your account to pay for claims that your company may have been liable for.

Would you give the state your personal check book?

You may say no!!!!! 

But you have more $$$ in your unemployment account, then you will ever have in your personal checking account. Yet people still do not ask……

How much are we paying into unemployment?

Are you sure we are paying the correct amount?

Is your currenr nemployment Rate Correct?

Hutchinson Business Solutions has been dealing with this exact question for over 10 years. We offer a free service to determine if your rate is correct.

If we find there is an error, we will work with the state to get it corrected and take the necessary steps to file for a refund.

We will also work with you to help control unemployment cost and your future rate.

Should you like to know more email george@hbsadvantage.com or you may call 856-85-1230.