"We've experienced a wave of very drastic benefit reductions," said Claire McKenna, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based group that serves as an advocate for low-wage workers and the unemployed.
Ohio could be the next state to shorten benefits. A bill by Rep. Barbara Sears would cut benefits to as few as 12 weeks by linking their duration to the unemployment rate. It also would make other benefit changes while trying to replenish an unemployment insurance trust fund that owes $773 million to the federal government.
The legislation is projected to reduce unemployment payments by an average of $475 million annually from 2018 to 2025.
Sears said some people who remain jobless for several months are "kind of settling in on unemployment and riding it until almost the last week before they're re-engaging in the workforce." A shorter benefit period could prompt them to find work, she said.
"When you know you're going to go off of unemployment, there is an overwhelming urge to be less particular maybe about finding the exact job that you lost," said Sears, a Republican from the Toledo area.
Advocates for the poor dispute that assertion. After the reductions in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the percentage of adults ages 25 to 54 with jobs in those states grew more slowly than the national average, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based liberal think tank.
A coalition of Ohio health and human services groups has warned that shorter unemployment benefits could increase poverty. Some people will turn to food stamps or charities, sell their possessions or their blood plasma and run up credit card debt just to get by, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and co-chair of Advocates for Ohio's Future.