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Unemployment Compensation Changes in Pennsylvania
By Samuel Cordes
In the current difficult economic times, many have lost jobs and are struggling to find new employment. They depend on unemployment payments to help meet their basic needs while looking for new work. Some Pennsylvania lawmakers have claimed that the system is bankrupt and the qualification requirements too lax and have made efforts at changing the state unemployment compensation system.
The House Labor and Industry Committee passed two bills aimed at changing the state’s unemployment compensation system, sending them to the full House for approval. House Bill 1754 would restrict eligibility for unemployment so that those who willfully quit their jobs cannot collect unemployment. The bill allows for an exception if the claimant is a victim of domestic abuse and fears the abuser will come after the claimant at work. The bill also defines “willful misconduct” that would lead to a claimant being ineligible for unemployment more fully, so judges would have less discretion in deciding whether a claimant committed willful misconduct.
House Bill 1852 would increase the statute of limitations for prosecuting those who commit unemployment compensation fraud. It would also institute a fine of 15 percent of the amount of payments made to prison inmates fraudulently collecting unemployment and make those who commit such fraud ineligible for unemployment payments in the future.
Criticisms of the Bills
Proponents of the bills argue that the changes will reduce erroneous payments and help rectify the $3.7 billion debt that the unemployment compensation fund owes the federal government. Critics of the bills claim that these changes will not adequately address the fund’s solvency issues. Rather, it will just become harder for people who need unemployment payments to qualify for them.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have been focusing on the unemployment compensation system for some time. The proposed bills come on top of changes that the state passed in June, 2011. As a result of the 2011 changes, unemployment claimants have to meet stringent work search requirements in order to get payments, including registering with Pennsylvania CareerLink for employment search services, posting a resume on the agency’ s database and applying for jobs within a 45 minute commuting distance.
The state now also offsets the unemployment compensation for claimants lucky enough to receive severance pay when losing their jobs, deducting the amount of severance pay from a claimant’s unemployment payments.
With the recent changes to the unemployment system and the current proposed changes, those seeking unemployment payments in Pennsylvania may find it harder than ever to get the money they need to get by while they find new jobs.