Program lets full-time workers become part-timers and collect benefits

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,006 views 

The co-owner of a Hot Springs-based powersports dealership says a state program that lets employers move full-time employees into part-time positions while they still receive unemployment and other benefits is a “godsend.”

Greeson’s, which sells Kawasaki, Polaris and other outdoor products, is one of about 70 Arkansas employers participating in the Division of Workforce Services’ Shared Work Program.

The longtime state unemployment insurance program is now being funded as a short-time compensation program under the federal $2 trillion CARES Act, which Congress passed in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. “CARES” stands for “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.”

Rather than laying off employees completely, an employer can reduce their hours and divide the work between them, and then the employees will be eligible for part of their unemployment compensation while keeping their benefits such as health insurance. Employees are eligible for up to 25 weeks of benefits.

Kenneth Jennings, program operations manager, said in an email that individuals can earn up to 40% of their weekly benefit amount by working and still receive the full amount of unemployment benefits. Income earned above 40% reduces the amount earned through the Shared Work Program dollar-for-dollar until an employee who earns 140% of their weekly unemployment benefit would receive nothing from the fund.

Employees receiving unemployment benefits earn a minimum of $81 per week and a maximum of $451. Those participating in the Shared Work Program are still eligible for an additional $600 weekly benefit authorized by the CARES Act.

The act provides federal funding for the program through Dec. 31. Previously, funding came from the employer’s unemployment reserve account. Participating employers must have a positive account without having a temporary layoff of the affected employees during the previous four months.

Dana Greeson, co-owner of Greeson’s, said her company sells off-road vehicles, motorcycles, boats and other items. “We sell fun. That’s kind of our motto,” she said.

This is the company’s busy season, which it’s in danger of missing because of the pandemic. The Shared Work Program has enabled her company to retain all 14 staff members and let them keep their benefits rather than lay off employees, as it did during the Great Recession a decade ago. Instead of two employees in the parts department, one works at a time.

“We are still open five days a week and doing our normal business, but our staff is staggered,” she said. “One, it keeps us from all being in the same place at the same time, so it’s good for social distancing. And two, it’s helping us cut expenses and kind of hold back a little bit to see how this is going to play out long-term.”

Greeson said her company applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, another employee benefits mechanism for small businesses in the CARES Act, but funding ran out before her company was approved.

She said she and her husband knew nothing about the Shared Work Program until reading about it in an Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce newsletter. Setting up the program was easy. Once a week, she faxes a report indicating the number of hours each employee has worked, and funds are provided within a day or so.

She said employees are “part of our family.” Most have been with the company more than 10 years while two have been there 27, including a salesman and a parts professional. If the company lays them off, they’ll work somewhere else and their valuable experience will be lost. Greeson’s rebuilt part of its employee base after the recession, but not completely.

While it’s open during its regular hours, it’s practicing social distancing while several times a day cleaning surfaces that people might touch, she said. Employees also are delivering parts and accessories to customers’ cars parked in the parking lot.

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