Carney signs Delaware unemployment benefit raise
DOVER — Gov. John Carney signed a bill that raises Delaware’s unemployment benefit and temporarily reduces the tax burden on employers on Thursday, after a quick series of debates through the General Assembly.
House Bill 49, sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), raised the maximum unemployment benefit from $400 to $450 a week, with a sliding scale that starts at a $20 minimum. The average unemployment benefit duration varies between 13.9 and 16 weeks, according to state labor officials.
HB 49 passed the State Senate 16-4 on Thursday afternoon, with Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View), Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), and State Sens. Eric Buckson (R-Dover/Frederica) and David Wilson (R-Milford/Greenwood) in opposition. One senator was absent.
A week before, it cleared the House easily as the legislators aimed to get the bill before the governor’s desk before the Joint Finance Committee meets next week.
Now Delaware would top one of its state neighbors in unemployment benefits: Maryland offers $403 in maximum benefits. Pennsylvania offers $605 weekly benefits and New Jersey offers $830 as of this year.
The $450 unemployment benefit maximum represents 56% of the weekly wages of a worker who earns at least $41,000. During the third quarter of 2022, the average weekly benefit amount that out-of-work Delawareans received was $292.
Hocker, and many of the other dissenters, voted against the bill Thursday afternoon because of the nationwide struggles of filling open positions.
“We heard the governor say in the State of the State address there’s many more jobs than applicants, and the reason why is we make it attractive for those not to apply,” Hocker said. “We need to get people back to work. I’m not against helping anybody … but we got too many people out there that won’t work.”
The legislation also temporarily lowers the tax to fund the unemployment benefit for one year. The state unemployment tax is assessed based on the benefit wage ratio, or the total amount of wages paid in the base periods of employees who drew benefits over the previous three years divided by the total payroll.
Delaware has 79 variables to determine benefit wage ratio, with the tax maxing out at 8.2%.
Now, under the newly-signed legislation, the tax would temporarily reduce that calculation to include nine variables, with a 5.6% max tax.
This adjustment results in a $50 million in tax reduction for the 34,388 employers in Delaware.
In 2022, there were 16,000 employers who paid 0.3% and 10,730 employers who paid between 0.4% and 0.56%. Under the new law, that would be 35,000 employers slated to pay 0.3% and 846 employers to pay between 0.4% and 0.56% in the tax.
State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Newark), who led the HB 49 through the Senate, argued that both raising unemployment and reducing the tax collectively will help Delaware residents and businesses, some who are still working their way through the after-effects of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of people out there hurting. I understand there’s jobs that have to be filled, but there’s a lot of people out there that need help. The benefit does not even equate minimum wage,” Walsh said.