Guest Blog: Making Unemployment Insurance Work for Montana Workers

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a crucial means of supporting workers when they become unemployed. For workers and their families, the loss of a job can be devastating. UI provides partial income replacement to the unemployed while they search for regular work. UI also provides an important boost to the economy as it puts money in the pockets of people who will spend it—usually right away.

However, less than half of the unemployed workers in Montana receive UI. We at looked into why. Today we are releasing the full report titled Making Unemployment Insurance Work for Montana Workers.

We found that certain types of workers are likely to be left out of the UI system. Workers who earn a low wage—particularly women, Native Americans, workers in food, accommodations and retail industries – are less likely to receive UI than other workers.

In addition, Montana’s benefit amounts are below the national average.

Montana had made some changes recently to expand eligibility to UI. We need to maintain those changes and continue to expand eligibility so that UI is a system that works for all workers. Montana’s Unemployment Insurance program is not unique — no state currently has a UI program that adequately meets the needs of all workers.

Montana can help bolster its UI system by:

  • Expanding access to UI for those who leave their jobs for compelling family reasons, including:
    • Eligibility for workers who leave a job to care for a sick family member or for personal illness,
    • Eligibility to the full 28 weeks available to other qualified applicants for workers who leave a job because of domestic violence,
    • Eligibility for workers who leave a job because a spouse relocates (currently only available when the spouse is a member of the military).
  • Increase benefits for UI recipients with dependents. Montana could join the fourteen other states that increased benefits for recipients with dependents. An increased benefit when work stops would help reduce the detrimental effects the parent’s unemployment has on their children.
  • Expand outreach efforts and enrollment assistance focused on improving the UI recipiency rates on the seven Indian reservations in Montana.

These changes would likely shrink the differences for women, Native Americans, and workers in industries with high turnover rates. Supporting workers when work stops is vital to our workers, families and economy.

Sarah Wilhelm has worked for 10 years providing public policy analysis and lobbying for shared prosperity, fair taxation and adequate revenue generation at Voices for Utah Children, the MBPC, and as an independent consultant.

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