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Unemployment bill passes state House, Senate

Measure expected to help 44,000 seasonal workers get benefits

Legislation changing the way unemployment compensation is calculated, a move officials expect to help about 44,000 seasonal workers qualify for benefits, cleared the state House and Senate this week.

House Bill 319 goes to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature after Wednesday’s passage.

Wolf in a statement called the measure a “necessary and critical reform (that) will finally provide nearly 50,000 additional people with insurance in the event they lose their job or cannot find work.”

Many blue-collar workers had suffered serious loss of compensation due to changes in the law made back in 2012, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack said in a statement.

“It was another blow to working families whose wage-earners were either furloughed or laid off through no fault of their own,” Stack said. HB 319 “will help operating engineers, laborers, road-construction workers and other seasonal employees to receive unemployment compensation in the winter months when they cannot work.”

Seasonal workers saw their benefits eliminated or sharply reduced under the 2012 bill, a statement from Democrat Stack’s office said.

HB 319 now would amend the law to reduce the minimum amount of wages a claimant must earn during three quarters from 49.5 percent to 37 percent of base-year earnings, outside the highest quarter, the statement explained.

Workers “deserve a fair and equitable formula,” said Stack, who said that as a state senator he voted against the 2012 bill. He subsequently introduced legislation (SB 912) in the 2013-14 session that was similar to a provision in the new bill, the statement added.

To pay for the change, the new legislation also makes several changes to help keep the state’s unemployment compensation fund solvent while also updating the law’s anti-fraud provisions to protect the integrity of the system, the news release added.

The prime sponsor of the legislation was state Rep. Jerry Knowles, a Republican who serves parts of Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill counties, according to the state Legislature’s webpage.

Gov. Wolf added that “this bipartisan 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.

“We accomplished this while remaining fiscally responsible and good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” the governor’s statement added.

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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