Schweyer proposal would fund unemployment compensation centers

HARRISBURG, Dec. 12 – In an effort to limit the length of the imminent shutdown for unemployment compensation service centers in Allentown, Altoona and Lancaster, state Rep. Peter Schweyer plans to reintroduce legislation that would extend program funding for one year.

In October, the House passed similar legislation 175-13, with overwhelming bipartisan support. However, it received no further action in the Senate and the measure died when the 2015-16 legislative session ended Nov. 30. The resulting lack of funding has caused the Wolf administration to lay off more than 500 UC service center employees this month.

“Unquestionably, these layoffs will create serious financial stress for many Pennsylvania families, including the families attempting to file for unemployment compensation. As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to promptly and fairly address this problem,” said Schweyer, D-Lehigh.

The Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund was created by Act 34 of 2013 to supplement federal funding in order to administer Pennsylvania’s UC program through 2016. It helped to preserve and improve services for UC claimants.

Schweyer explained that at the time the 2013 legislation was introduced, the Philadelphia Service Center had been closed due to insufficient funding, and unemployed Pennsylvanians throughout the state were coping with residual busy signals and long phone wait times during the post-recession period.

“Passage of Act 34 was a successful bipartisan effort to stabilize service center operations and systems in order to become compliant with federal standards for timely UC payments, reduction of busy signals and faster appeals decisions,” Schweyer said. “We should continue to work in a bipartisan way to ensure these state employees are put back to work as soon as possible, so proper services can be restored for those seeking unemployment assistance.”

Schweyer’s legislation would maintain the current funding mechanism by allocating a portion of the existing employee contributions to supplement the UC operational budget and upgrade the UC computer system in the face of declining federal funding to the states for administration of UC programs.

It would extend funding through 2017 and include an audit of SIIF by the state auditor general to ensure that past money was spent properly, help determine the extent to which additional funding is necessary to operate the UC system, and provide ideas on how to make the system more efficient.