By Mary Ann Meyers
March 9, 2011
A bipartisan movement is picking up steam in Springfield to repeal a law that cuts or eliminates unemployment benefits for thousands of Illinois seniors. One of those seniors is Nancy Solomon, a Chicago writer who says she has worked all her life and paid into Social Security. She now gets Social Security but, without much of a nest egg, Solomon has had to keep working to make ends meet.
After a recent layoff, she applied for unemployment and was surprised to find out that her unemployment check would be about half as much as other younger, laid-off workers. Solomon says that feels like age discrimination, especially because her employer did pay in to the system for her.
"They paid the same amount for me that they would have paid for anybody else in my job description, no matter what my age. But then I come to collect unemployment – and I can't get it because of my age."
The problem is known as the unemployment "offset," a law that reduces unemployment benefits for seniors like Solomon and denies such benefits completely to others. Now, with no job and her unemployment limited, Solomon finds herself facing possible foreclosure. All states have repealed the offset law – except Illinois and Louisiana.
Solomon says her financial situation is so tight that she had decided she must keep on working, but despite many years of experience she can't get her foot in the door at most places.
"I can barely get interviews – and my resume is remarkable."
State Rep. Karen May (D-58th Dist., Highland Park) is sponsoring House Bill 96, which would repeal the offset. May says she has talked to many seniors who are working – not for something to do, but to pay for housing, medications, and food. She believes the offset is unfair to those who have worked and paid into Social Security all their lives.
"In this economic climate, our senior citizens just don't know where to turn if they lose their jobs. Why should seniors be the ones who are discriminated against?"
Opponents say the state can't afford to repeal the offset because the unemployment fund is in the red. Rep. May says the cost of the repeal is small, however. The legislation has 40 sponsors and bipartisan support; it also has the backing of AARP-Illinois, The Shriver Center, and The Woodstock Institute. May is hopeful it will pass by year's end.