The strain on Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the employer community was highlighted in testimony by PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper during a public hearing of the House Labor and Industry Committee last week.
During his testimony, Halper detailed the changes that were made to the state and federal UC law to expand UC benefits during the pandemic – including the federal CARES Act that provided an extra $600 a week to UC claimants at the height of the economic fallout – and the challenges that the system faced in meeting the drastically increased demand. The sharp spike in claims, outdated technology to address them and lack of clarity in the law resulted in long delays and technological mishaps, and tragically led to many claimants going weeks or even months with no revenue, paycheck or unemployment benefit. “Going forward, lawmakers should strive to fix those deficiencies over which you do have some control, begin the process of addressing the UC trust fund’s fiscal state, and plan for transiting UC back to its intended purpose based on targeted support,” Halper recommended.
Halper’s testimony also detailed other UC challenges employers have faced in the wake of COVID-19, including navigating a laborious claims process and addressing the difficult situation of employees turning down offers to return to work because they were making more on UC benefits (an issue that was worsened by an April press conference where Gov. Wolf made the blanket statement that employers facing that problem should simply pay their workers more).
The PA Chamber is recommending UC reforms that will address the current vagueness in the law – for example, H.B. 596, which would provide more specific guidance for employers and claimants alike, with respect to pandemic-related claims. Additionally, our organization supports policies that will help the UC system remain solvent to serve its intended purpose of providing a temporary financial safety net for individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are actively searching for employment. Halper outlined additional measures the PA Chamber supports to address growing costs – including benefit fairness so that certain employees (e.g., seasonal employees) aren’t unfairly favored over others, and increasing the currently low threshold for employees previously deemed ineligible for benefits to later qualify.
Halper’s full testimony is available here.