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Gov. Wolf signs measure to help seasonal workers

A measure that state leaders say will provide nearly 44,000 people with insurance if they lose their job or can’t find work was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The new law is designed to ensure that Pennsylvania’s seasonal workers and others who need unemployment insurance will have better access to funds, state officials explained.

While many people need unemployment insurance to get them through periods when they are out of work, seasonal workers in construction and other industries rely on such funds to make it through the winter months, officials said.

The measure, known as Act 144, cleared the state House and Senate last week as House Bill 319.

“This agreement brought together both Republicans and Democrats, as well as advocates in the business community and organized labor, to ensure that we help the unemployed while they try to find work,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a news release.

A top Republican, state Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County, called the new law a “well-designed solution” that “prevents what could have been a serious employment and economic problem in many areas of the state.”

Unemployment compensation eligibility is based on a formula that compares the total yearly earnings of an employee to his or her highest-earning quarter.

Under previous law, people receiving unemployment insurance had to earn at least 49.5 percent of their wages outside their highest-earning quarter.

The threshold had been set at 37 percent, but it was raised in 2012 as part of a plan to eliminate debt owed by the state’s unemployment compensation fund to the federal government. However, the higher percentage left many people, especially seasonal workers, ineligible for unemployment compensation, the news release stated.

Lawmakers have been trying to fix the problem. The new law returns the bar to 37 percent.

To pay for the change, the legislation adopts several cost-saving changes to ensure that Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation trust fund remains solvent, officials also explained.

The changes include an across-the-board 2 percent reduction in benefits and other measures designed to rein in future costs.

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at [email protected].

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