Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other public school seasonal workers in most states can collect unemployment benefits during the summer and other breaks in the year. Although filtered through their employers and the state government, ultimately it is the taxpayers who pay for these benefits. This extra compensation received during their summer break is not included the employees’ salaries as reported in school budgets and elsewhere.
Fair treatment or scam on taxpayers?
My first reaction upon hearing about this was surprise, followed by a realization that this was one of those fairness issues that often divides people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Rent control is another example of this, where I simply shake my head at how ridiculous it seems and others accept it as the fair way to treat tenants.
With many states struggling over budget issues, this issue is in the spotlight.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Should seasonal workers be allowed to collect unemployment checks in their downtime?
A growing number of states are saying no.
From school bus drivers to ballet dancers to lifeguards, many workers whose jobs only last for a portion of the year have traditionally been eligible for jobless benefits. But now states across the country are starting to crack down, trying to save money and rescue insolvent jobless funds.
Federal law gives each state the option to decide whether or not to allow seasonal workers to take benefits. Now strapped for funds, many states are stripping some workers of their eligibility.
For example, earlier this year, New Jersey Republicans introduced a bill that would require the state to identify specific seasonal industries that operate about 9 months of the year or less, and deny those workers unemployment benefits in the off-season.
Uh oh. I know a school bus driver in New Jersey who looks forward to her unemployment checks every summer. She may be affected by this.
“Individuals who work in a truly seasonal industry know that the work will not continue past a certain time,” said New Jersey assemblyman Sean Kean, when he co-sponsored the bill. “Therefore, it makes sense to end seasonal workers’ unemployment benefits. This is a common sense measure that will save taxpayers and help the state’s unemployment insurance fund.”
Most states allow seasonal workers to collect unemployment benefits.
In all, about 15 states currently restrict the payment of unemployment benefits to workers who earned some or most of their wages in seasonal jobs. They all define seasons differently, some based on time frames and others based on industries.
How it works – teachers cannot collect, but bus drivers can
Federal law already prohibits professional athletes from accessing unemployment benefits between two seasons. Similarly, teachers who work directly for school districts have been ineligible to take unemployment during the summer, ever since Congress amended federal law in the 1970s.
But for other workers, it’s up to the states to decide. For example, private educational contractors — like bus drivers, crossing guards, janitors and cafeteria workers — have been entitled to unemployment benefits in many states, any time school is out of session.
Landscapers and construction workers can often apply for unemployment in the winter.
Entertainment workers like actors, stagehands, television producers, ballet dancers and opera singers sometimes collect between seasons.
And in some states, even workers in the hospitality industry can submit claims when the tourist season ends.
In the case of school bus drivers, I know my New Jersey bus driver friend and I agree with Virginia state Delegate Manoli Loupassi.
“They’re not unemployed. They know they’re coming back. They always come back.”
Our public institutions need more transparency, but unemployment compensation for seasonal public school workers is hidden from taxpayers, both as a cost and as compensation. It is a source of inflationary spending. It violates the spirit of unemployment benefits as a safety net to help with the burden of “temporary, unanticipated spells of unemployment“. It should be abolished.
It appears that seasonal workers in New York State can collect unemployment benefits.