Schweyer votes to fund UC centers, help unemployed workers (WITH VIDEO)

HARRISBURG, April 18 – The state House of Representatives today passed legislation that would provide emergency funding to restore some of the unemployment services lost in December after Senate Republicans refused to support the state’s call service centers used by jobless people seeking unemployment compensation, according to state Rep. Peter Schweyer.

Senate Bill 250 would provide $15 million of temporary funding for the remainder of calendar year 2017. The bill passed the House 189-4.

“Working people from across the commonwealth contribute a portion of their paychecks every payday to ensure that Pennsylvania has a robust unemployment compensation system. It is a fact of our American economy that some people will be out of work through no fault of their own. A downturn in the economy, outsourcing, robotics or a change in the marketplace could all cause an employer to lay someone off,” Schweyer said.

“But it is widely agreed upon that no one should lose their home or go hungry over this. That is why we have an Unemployment Compensation program. This is one of the most important yet basic safety nets for all workers and their families.

“It is true that the UC fund must have enough money in its account to support those out-of-work employees. But it is equally vital that we have the delivery mechanism needed to make sure that the benefit payments are actually made. To put it another way, what good is a savings account if there are no bank branches or ATMs from which to withdraw one’s dollars?

“Make no mistake about it: because of a collective failure in state government, we allowed UC Call Centers to close. We essentially closed bank branches. The result of this is easy to understand: we made it much, much harder for those workers who are simply down on their luck to receive the unemployment benefits that they need and deserve and the benefits that they paid for.

“Ironically, at the same time we added to the unemployment rolls by defunding the positions of 499 dedicated public employees, 87 of whom were employed in the city of Allentown. Plainly, through our collective inaction last year, we increased the number of Pennsylvanians who are unemployed while making it harder for working-class folks to receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” Schweyer said.

According to the Department of Labor and Industry, for the week ending April 8, statewide busy signals remained relatively steady, up from 699,538 to 699,783. This count remains far more than busy signals from a year ago. During the week ending April 9, 2016, busy signals were only 8,236.   

Additional statistics show that before the state started supplementing federal dollars to administer the UC system under Act 34 of 2013, the percentage of first payments made within 14 days to claimants filing an initial claim was 81 percent. After the passage of Act 34, timely first payments increased to 92 percent, surpassing the federal benchmark of 87 percent. As of April 2017, the percentage of first payments made within 14 days to claimants filing an initial claim has declined to 72 percent.

“Senate Bill 250 is a temporary, stop-gap solution that will begin to undo the damage that we did last year. To be clear, I am under no illusions that this will reopen the Allentown Unemployment Compensation office or perhaps any office that was closed. But it will bring back a number of employees across the state’s system so that claims can be processed more expediently,” Schweyer said.

“Senate Bill 250 is only the first step toward rebuilding our Unemployment Compensation system, but it cannot be the last. We still need a permanent funding solution to our UC system. We still need the auditor general’s report. We still need to upgrade our technology. But we need not make working-class Pennsylvanians who are simply down on their luck worry about where their next mortgage payment is coming from while we debate those details,” he said.

The amended legislation returns to the state Senate for consideration.

Schweyer has reintroduced legislation (H.B. 34) that would extend unemployment compensation funding for one year, through 2017, and ensure the transfer of up to $42.5 million to be used for operational purposes and up to $15 million to allow the start of technological upgrades to the benefits delivery system. Last session, the House passed a similar bill, but the Senate failed to take action, forcing the closure of call centers in Allentown, Altoona and Lancaster.