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Lawmakers OK bill to let more Oregonians work part-time and keep unemployment benefits

State lawmakers have passed a bill that would temporarily allow more Oregonians to work part time while keeping full unemployment benefits.

House Bill 3178 now goes to Oregon Governor Kate Brown for her expected signature.

HB 3178 would allow more people to earn up to $300 in a given week before their weekly benefits are reduced. The goal is to help people get back to work as much as possible, without penalizing them by shutting off or reducing benefits.

The Oregon Employment Department estimated fewer than 20,000 people would benefit from the measure, at a cost of $75 million.

HB 3178 was championed by Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who applauded its passage.

“Oregonians are still juggling disrupted childcare, part-time school, financial challenges, and the continued risk of COVID-19 – everyone can’t simply go back to work as if it’s February 2020,” Hoyle said in a statement. “Now, workers will have support to get back to work part time without losing money each week and businesses can slowly open up as it’s safe to do so.”

HB 3178 is, in a sense, “part two” of a measure that passed in a special session last year. That measure, Senate Bill 1701, was intended to raise to $300 the amount a person could earn in a week before their unemployment benefits were reduced.

But there was a problem. According to state law, if a person’s pay for part-time work exceeds their weekly benefit amount, they are no longer considered “unemployed.”

That meant some low wage workers — collecting perhaps $157 a week in benefits — would lose those benefits if they ever earned $300 in a given week.

HB 3178 presents a technical fix to that. It would amend the definition of “unemployment” in state law until Jan. 2, 2022.

The bill has the support of the Employment Department and the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kate Davidson