Jobless Workers Worry Harrisburg’s Forgotten Their Funding Woes

Sep 28, 2017

While Harrisburg is mired in balancing its overdue budget, employees in the state’s Unemployment Compensation program are getting concerned that a planned fix to their funding won’t come on time.

Hundreds of UC employees were laid off last year ago after funding wasn’t renewed over fears the program was ill-managed and cost too much.

It caused mass delays for people trying to claim unemployment benefits.

$15 million in stopgap money was passed in April, and has helped rehire some staff. It was only designed to last until roughly the end of the year; at the time, lawmakers said they’d immediately start on a permanent fix.

There have since been some studies and hearings, but there’s still no bill—or even a known framework.

Republican Rob Kauffman, who chairs the House Labor and Industry Committee, said most people support getting more cash to the UC system.

But he noted, the budget impasse is slowing things down—as is what he sees as a lack of clarity from the Wolf administration on how much money it needs to correct tech and staffing problems.

He said the House wants to find a solution soon, but added he thinks things would be ok through February or so, if necessary.

“The idea that it’s imperative that it’s done this month might be a little bit overstated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Wolf administration said it has spent the summer putting an efficiency plan in place in the UC system, and “cost savings have been realized, process efficiencies have been identified, and wait times have decreased since the peak of the furlough period.”

He added that the Labor and Industry Department, which oversees the system, “anticipates sharing its findings with the legislature soon to move the conversation forward.”

Chris Good takes calls and processes unemployment compensation claims at the UC center in Harrisburg, and helps represent many union workers there. He said the fixes that have been made so far haven’t improved conditions much.

“It’s bad, I mean we have tens of thousands of documents that we haven’t even looked at that could help us detect fraud, but we’re more concerned with addressing callers on a daily basis,” he said. “We’re just kind of staying afloat.”

He said an impending winter busy season—when seasonal workers are often out of a job—makes things much more pressing.

“If we don’t have a bill by the end of October, we’re going to be short-staffed around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it’s going to be worse than it was last year,” he said.

UC workers and union leaders are holding a rally in Harrisburg next week in hopes they can convince lawmakers to act faster.