About 600 employees in the state’s Department of Labor & Industry will soon be without a job after the Senate adjourned this week without voting on a bill that would have extended temporary funding for the state’s eight unemployment compensation centers.
The details of who will be laid off and when have not been announced, but the jobs will likely be gone “before the holidays,” according to Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino. The eight centers are located around the state.
The bill, HB2375, would have provided $57.5 million to keep up temporary funding for the unemployment centers as a previously approved four-year funding stream comes to an end.
Senate Republicans opted not to take up the bill for several reasons, including the sentiment that they were being asked to provide last-minute funding to a subsidy the department had long known was coming to an end.
Jennifer Kocher, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, likened the request to a student asking for an extension on a project he knew all semester would be due the last week of class.
Some legislators also felt uncomfortable granting the extension because they still lacked crucial details about the department’s operations, she said, and were hesitant to take up the issue in the post-election session.
Senate Republicans are open to looking at the funding again in January, she added.
The Department of Labor & Industry, however, said in a statement that the request was reasonable.
“This was not a last-minute ask, but rather what should have been a logical conclusion to conversations that began in April about extending a statute that was already in place and that has allowed the department to administer unemployment benefits in a timely manner,” Manderino said in a news release.
SEIU Local 668, the labor union representing the centers’ employees, also spoke out against the decision.
“The recent passage of Act 144, making 44,000 seasonal workers previously ineligible for unemployment benefits eligible once again, made this funding all the more critical,” the union said in a statement. “The widespread damage caused by the lack of funding will assuredly result in a reduction of the timely processing of benefits.”
Gov. Tom Wolf expressed similar concerns, saying in a statement that failure to pass the legislation “leaves the system’s staffing and operations in upheaval.”
Kocher, however, believes Wolf could have found a way to prevent the layoff and said his decision not to do so pointed to a pattern of using state employees’ livelihoods to force legislators’ hands.
“Laying off 600 people is the governor’s choice,” she said. “This is his choice to take the nuclear option.”