LITTLE ROCK—The Arkansas House has approved cuts to the state's unemployment benefits as part of legislation that also reduces taxes on employers.
The House passed a bill Wednesday that would reduce the length of unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 16 starting in 2018, cutting those benefits by 13 percent, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Democrats and union members oppose the bill, saying it unfairly targets unemployed workers. Democratic House Minority Leader Michael John Gray said reducing benefits to 16 weeks is an unnecessary burden on working Arkansas residents compared to surrounding states.
The bill also proposes to reduce the taxes that businesses pay in the state's unemployment fund.
Businesses currently pay taxes of up to $12,000 in each worker's annual wage, which would be reduced to $10,000 beginning in 2018.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum, said there isn't a fiscal need for more cuts to the length of benefits but that doing so would boost employment. She said the bill is in the process of being amended to eliminate the reduction in benefit amount.
"Every time you reduce weeks, people go back to work," she said.
In 2015, the Arkansas Legislature previously cut eligible benefits from 25 weeks.
According to Division of Workforce Services, the state's unemployment rate in December was 3.9 percent.