October 14, 2011
Overpayments and Tax Hikes Have More Nonprofits Leaving their State Unemployment Systems
SUMMARY: New data shows billions of dollars in unemployment benefits were paid in error over the last three years, and now businesses are being required to help pay down their state’s unemployment debt through increased taxes. As a result, the Unemployment Services Trust reports a 22% increase in nonprofits evaluating whether they should leave their state unemployment system before the quickly approaching annual deadline.
Santa Barbara, CA, October 14, 2011 -- The Unemployment Services Trust (UST) reports that more nonprofits are exercising their federal right to opt out of the state unemployment tax system just as the DOL releases new data indicating that states overpaid unemployment benefits by nearly $19 billion from June 2008 to June 2011. These overpayments represent an error of more than 10% of the $180 billion paid out in jobless benefits. It’s an unfortunate statistic since employers pay taxes to fund these benefits, and now the same employers are facing special assessment fees and higher taxes to help pay down loans their states took when their funds went into a deficit. This new outlook, along with a November 30 deadline, has many nonprofit employers suddenly looking at their alternatives.
In the long run, the onus lies on both states and businesses to make efforts to reduce these overpayments, explains UST. Most erroneous payments made by states are due to: recipients continuing to collect benefits after they find work, recipients failing to register with state workforce organizations, and employers failing to submit information about employee separation in a timely manner.
However for now, employers will have to pay up. For example, Arkansas owes nearly $360 million in federal loans. Over the past three years, the state has overpaid unemployment benefits by an estimated $161 million, which is 45% of the amount borrowed from the Fed since March 2009. But, these funds are long gone and the debt states are experiencing after taking out loans will ultimately be passed along to employers. Many states have already called for special assessments to begin paying down the interest on the loans, the first payment of which was due September 30. New Jersey, for example, has borrowed $1.05 billion and is asking employers to pay an average of $23 per employee to help settle the state’s debt, which may not sound like much, but for smaller companies and nonprofit organizations who typically work on limited budgets, these costs can add up quickly.
In the nonprofit world, employers with 501(c)(3) status face quite a different scenario, if they choose. They have the alternative of opting out of the unemployment tax system and reimbursing the state dollar-for-dollar when an unemployment claim is filed against the organization. They typically avoid the state tax increases and surcharges, and simply reimburse the state directly for their actual benefit costs. In most states, this option can only be exercised once annually, usually by November 30.
UST, a grantor trust founded by a group of nonprofits to help other nonprofits opt out of their state unemployment tax system, says that being a direct reimbursing employer can help save on operating costs. In addition, becoming a reimbursing employer can also help reduce state unemployment overpayments since employers are more likely to watch their claims closely to ensure they aren’t reimbursing the state for improper claims charges. While examining claims can be more work for HR managers, UST says that there are organizations who can help monitor claims on a nonprofit’s behalf. For example, through the assistance of their own unemployment claims monitoring services, UST’s 2,000 members saved about $38.5 million in 2010, $1.9 million of which were state errors found in audits.
Says Donna Groh, Executive Director of UST: “Already this year we’ve received nearly 250 requests to opt out of the state and join our Trust, which is a 22% increase from this time last year, and they’re continuing to flow in steadily as the deadline to opt out gets closer. It’s not for everyone, but we’re glad to see more nonprofits being proactive about reducing their costs and monitoring their unemployment claims after getting hit with the news about these overpayments and rising state taxes.”