House to Vote on Extended Unemployment Benefits Today

Updated: June 17, 2011 - Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has carefully analyzed the bill that finally passed the Legislature. As they explain, the legislation includes provisions that permanently cut unemployment benefits for thousands of workers in the future.  Many of these changes hurt low wage workers in particular. We'll have more on this in the coming days.

The Pennsylvania House is expected to take up legislation today that would continue extended federal unemployment benefits for 45,000 out-of-work Pennsylvanians now (and up to 90,000 through the end of the year). If they approve it, state Senate leaders plan a vote in that chamber on Friday.

This is great news after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations between House and Senate leaders over whether this legislation should also include benefit cuts and other longer-term changes to the state's unemployment insurance system.

The General Assembly has to make a technical change now to how it calculates "long-term unemployment" in order to secure the extended federal benefits through the end of the year. The Senate passed such a bill last month. House leaders, however, wanted to go further, with a plan that would have slashed unemployment benefits by about 20%. As I wrote on May 24, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers rejected this approach — good news in this still too fragile economy.

Since then, lawmakers from both chambers have been meeting to iron out their differences. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains this morning, House leaders say they have come to an agreement that will prevent anyone from losing benefits. This morning on Twitter, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati promised a vote in the Senate on Friday if the House acts today.

This is a positive development — but one that comes too close to the deadline for action, as 45,000 unemployed workers already scrapping by on a modest insurance benefit will now face a brief interruption in the delivery of their checks. We're talking about people who paid into the unemployment insurance system and were unfortunate enough to lose a job through no fault of their own.

Legislative action could have come a lot sooner, had the business lobby not pressed to use the deadline as a bargaining chip in their so-far failed (see update at the top) campaign to undermine the effectiveness of the unemployment insurance system. Lawmakers locally and nationally need to stop playing chicken with working and middle-class families.

To be sure, unemployed workers aren't out of the woods yet. Lawmakers say the General Assembly will consider more changes to the state's unemployment system in the fall, and that could include more benefit cuts. That would take us in the wrong direction.

Unemployment benefits are a lifeline to communities across Pennsylvania coping with high jobless rates. When people lose their jobs, it is unemployment benefits, food stamps and income assistance that keep them and their families from losing everything. And that helps local economies.

State lawmakers should act quickly to secure the extended federal unemployment benefits now and take care that their future actions do no further harm to the economy.


3 comments posted

In addition to House and

In addition to House and Senate Leaders involved in those negotiations, a group of rank and file House and Senate Republicans and Democrats made clear, over many weeks, that they would not permit the need to extend Unemployment Insurance eligibility for so many of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable victims of the Wall Street created economic collapse be used as a platform to restrict eligibility for UC benefits and cut Weekly UC benefits.

And, in addition to House and Senate Leaders negotiating over this issue, the voice of Workers was at the table in the form of the leadership of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits probably do the most damage to small business in this country.  Unemployment benefits are a disincentive to work and provides the low wage earner with just another excuse to remain unemployed.  I hear constantly about continuing unemployment benefits yet we've had a weekly help wanted ad running for 6 months with only a handful of applicants, none of which bothered to show up after orientation.  If you really want to put people back to work, end this unemployment benefit charade.

All workers contribute to the

All workers contribute to the unemployment insurance system and obtain from it a modest benefit if they lose a job through no fault of their own.  In Pennsylvania that benefit replaces for a limited period of time a little over half of the weekly income earned on a lost job.  As the vast majority of workers spend most of the income they earn, a nearly 50% reduction in their weekly pay represents a dramatic blow to household finances and as such operates as a powerful incentive to find work if work is available.  Work for low-income, working and middle class people is also an important part of their identity and self-worth and as such they prefer gainful employment regardless of the financial incentive. This can be seen in evidence in employment data which makes clear that outside of recessions most people are fortunate enough to avoid having to use the unemployment insurance system.

In the absence of unemployment insurance the job loss assoicated with a recession would be much larger in part because small businesses which by their nature have less access to capital are more sensitive to sudden reductions in consumer spending.  The absence of unemployment insurance would mean the incomes of millions of workers would fall to zero and that would result in a sharp reduction in sales at small businesses and as a result the likely failure of many of those businesses.  

Regarding your claim that you are not getting applications to your business I would suggest that you post the name of your company and point us all to your job posting. 

Spot shortages even in periods of high unemployment are rare and the data make clear that the number of unemployed far exceeds the available openings.    

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