The Senate Appropriations Committee’s budget hearing with the Department of Labor & Industry last week covered a number of workforce related issues – including challenges the state’s unemployment compensation system is facing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and getting people back to work.
Throughout the hearing, legislators on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the unprecedented challenges placed on the state’s UC system due to the surge in the number of applicants resulting from COVID-19 related economic shutdowns. According to Acting L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier, the department has handled more than 6 million UC claims since March 15, 2020 – more than it handled in the nine prior years combined. The department faces additional hurdles in processing claims due its 40-year-old computer system. The secretary went on to report that the department will implement a new benefits system this June that will greatly enhance efficiency.
According to a report by Pennsylvania Legislative Services, Senate Labor & Industry Committee Chair Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, pushed the department on what it’s doing to help individuals transition from the state’s UC rolls back into the workforce, noting that there are open positions throughout the Commonwealth that employers are having trouble filling. Democratic Appropriations Chair Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, also highlighted the negative impact the pandemic has had on women in the workforce – asking the department about “retooling and job training efforts moving forward” to address this issue. Sec. Berrier agreed with Sen. Hughes, stating, “Coming out of this pandemic and looking at the future of our workforce we have to figure out how to reenter women back into the workforce and take away some of the barriers that exist or may have arisen as a result of the pandemic.” She also pointed to the work the Governor’s Workforce Command Center – of which PA Chamber President Gene Barr serves as co-chair – had already done prior to the pandemic to identify and address workforce needs.
Senate Appropriations Committee hearings will continue the week of April 19.