Jobless benefits to expire unless Pa. House acts

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HARRISBURG -- Thousands of Pennsylvanians will see their federally funded unemployment benefits expire after this week, with legislation to extend those checks lingering in the state House of Representatives.

A pending measure, which passed the state Senate last week, would offer 13 additional weeks of benefits to the state's jobless residents. The federal funding was approved by Congress in December but requires the state to tweak its unemployment compensation rules in order to receive those dollars.

That bill is awaiting consideration by a House panel, which has a vote scheduled for Monday. Legislative staffers say the belatedly approved benefits would be retroactive, but pressures to also enact broader changes to the state's unemployment compensation system could further hold up that assistance.

Approximately 17,000 residents would be affected if the benefit extension is not approved, according to the state's Department of Labor & Industry.

It's unclear whether House lawmakers will quickly vote on the bill, which would then go to Gov. Tom Corbett's desk for his signature, or insert additional changes. The General Assembly approved a sweeping overhaul of the unemployment compensation system in June, when it also extended federal benefits by 13 weeks.

Those changes, which required the unemployed to actively seek work to receive their benefit checks and froze the maximum amount of weekly benefits, should be expanded further, says the state's Chamber of Business and Industry. Those business leaders wrote to lawmakers urging them to insert provisions to help address the insolvency of Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation trust fund.

Some in the state Legislature share that view, backing changes that would then require the state Senate to vote again on the bill. Both chambers are in session next week, but the Senate then will adjourn until March.

"I'm going to try to get it to move clean, without amendments, but I'm not sure I can do that," said Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, who chairs the House Labor & Industry Committee. "There are those who would like to see more changes incorporated, while others want to just run the bill."

Mr. Miller said some Republican legislators are supportive of a variety of additional changes, including provisions to prohibit those who voluntarily leave their job, or who are justifiably fired from applying for benefits.

House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are urging swift approval next week.

"We have to address that as soon as we possibly can," said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. "When we get back here, we ought to take care of that."


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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