GUEST BLOG: Montana Helps Workers that are Victims of Domestic Violence

This year, the Montana Legislature empowered victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to make safe decisions without risking economic devastation. House Bill 306, introduced by Representative Jenny Eck, will allow victims (men and women alike) who must leave their jobs to collect unemployment insurance for the same length of time afforded to other workers. Often victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking must leave their jobs in order to protect themselves and their children. Tomorrow, Governor Steve Bullock will visit the Friendship Center, the Helena-based domestic violence shelter, where he will sign the legislation into law.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) was designed to help workers who have lost their job through ‘no fault of their own. Workers who have been laid off or lost their jobs because of natural disaster receive UI for up to 28 weeks. However until now, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking were only entitled to receive 10 weeks of UI. This inequity was particularly glaring because usually victims do not just have to find a new job, but also relocate their entire lives. Most states provide UI benefits to victims of domestic violence, but Montana was the only state that limited benefits to fewer weeks than the normal limit.

Finding a new, safe community, housing, schools for their children, and a new job can take time. A much longer time than only finding a new job. This bill will provide victims peace of mind to know they will have some income during this difficult transition. Economic insecurity is one of the main reasons that women remain in an abusive relationship.

There is not widespread demand for this benefit, but it is important nonetheless. In 2014 only 22 individual took advantage of the limited weeks available. But for those who receive it, the benefit can be a lifesaver. Nearly 33% of women killed in a U.S. workplace were killed by a current or former intimate partner, according to one peer-reviewed study.

The passage of HB 306 is the first step toward reforming UI so that it meets the needs of today’s workers. This summer we released a report highlighting the large disparities in the utilization of UI by Montana workers. Women, Native Americans and those in low wage jobs are less likely to receive UI when they lose a job through ‘no fault of their own.’ Montana should consider expanding access to UI for those who leave their jobs for compelling family reasons, including:

  • To care for a sick family member or for personal illness,
  • Because a spouse relocates (currently only available when the spouse is a member of the military).

We commend Rep. Eck, the legislature, our partners at the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and the Governor for taking an important step to supporting workers and victims of domestic violence. 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, MBPC, and as an independent consultant.

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