Under Rhode Island’s current rules, workers stop being eligible for unemployment payments if they earn more than their weekly benefit amount. Once that happens, they’re also cut off from the extra $300 that the federal government is providing each week until the beginning of September.

That all means some people could bring home less money by going back to work, and it’s one reason why many business owners say they can’t find employees.

The new legislation aims to change that by allowing workers to make more money — up to 150% of their weekly unemployment benefit — before being cut off. So someone who collects $300 dollars a week in unemployment benefits could earn nearly $450 per week and still qualify for the federal boost.

The legislation also says workers can earn up to half of their weekly benefit amount before their benefits are reduced at all. Typically, that cutoff is set at 20%.

“This bill is a win-win for Rhode Island's business community and the workers they rely on,” said Rep. Carol McEntee, who is sponsoring the legislation in the House, which overwhelmingly approved the changes Wednesday. “It will allow unemployment insurance claimants to work more, earn more, and still collect a partial unemployment insurance payment — keeping them connected to the system and the safety net that they and their families rely on while returning to work after over a year of not working.”

The Senate passed a similar bill on Tuesday, but one chamber will need to approve the other’s version before the legislation heads to Governor Dan McKee, who supports the legislation.

If signed into law, the changes would begin on May 23 and continue until July of 2022. Beginning May 23, Rhode Island is also reinstating a rule that people collecting unemployment benefits must actively look for a new job.

Antonia Ayres-Brown can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org