State program offers unemployment help when hours get cut

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — A program on the books for 35 years in Arkansas offers unemployment benefits to workers when their job hours get cut, but avoid being laid off.

The Shared Work Program seems tailor-made for the current crisis with millions across the country and hundreds of thousands in the Natural State losing their jobs amid the uncertainty in the virus fight.

“This is an option that they have as opposed to doing a mass layoff or a partial layoff,” said Mike Preston, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce.

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Arkansas is among 28 states and the District of Columbia with the system in place. It works by allowing a company that’s about to take a hit keep workers on the job, but reduce their hours. Instead of sending employees to the unemployment lines, the state picks up the balance of the lost time on the job.

“We’re seeing more and more companies take advantage of it,” Preston said. “I think last week at this time we were about 44 companies.”

Forty-four companies isn’t a whole lot and Preston admits not many know about it, but he says that’s for good reason.

“The awareness isn’t there because we’ve never been in this circumstance before,” he said. “I think maybe some companies were aware of it when they felt a downturn in their industry.”

Companies have to instigate it. A worker can’t just go to the state and say, “I got my hours cut.” Employers draw up a plan and spell out who is getting their hours cut and for how long. It should be easy to implement for most human resources representatives.

“There’s an application that they fill out, but for most companies that have an HR director or HR manager, it shouldn’t be that difficult,” said Preston.

The benefits are obvious. Companies hold on to trained workers, the state pays out less money in public assistance, and recovery arrives early once we turn the corner.

“I would tell employees as well as the employers. If you don’t think your employer is aware of it, point it out to them,” he said.

Preston also had an update for all those 1099 employees hoping to get unemployment insurance for the first time through the CARES Act passed by Congress. He said the system is still being built to handle those new applicants and it won’t be ready until at least the end of April.

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In the meantime, those workers can go to their new website and enter your information. It will have them ahead of the game when that system is finally going.