The Pennsylvania Senate’s decision not to vote on a measure to distribute more funding to the state unemployment compensation program has kicked off a bitter dispute among the GOP-led chamber, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and the Department of Labor and Industry.
The bill in question would have tacked another year of funding onto a four-year cash stream allocated to the program in 2013.
It would have meant another $57.5 million next year. Wolf said Friday that, without that money, the state will have to lay off around 600 workers in jobless claims centers.
But Senate GOP spokeswoman Jenn Kocher, who said Wolf is using the chamber as a scapegoat, said that she sees the immediate rash of layoffs as a political move.
“This is just another instance of the governor using employees as pawns,” she said. “To get these people through to the beginning of the year when we come back into session and could work on this would take less than $15 million.”
Labor and Industries spokeswoman Sara Goulet said that’s untrue.
“I’m very surprised that she would know how much we pay our employees, that she could figure out what funding is necessary,” Goulet said. “I can’t even speculate what it would take, and to my knowledge that money does not exist.”
“We’re not doing this lightly,” she added.
Kocher also said the Senate was asked to vote the measure through without being shown a specific plan for the funds.
“At that point, it’s just asking for more money, unfettered, [without] any type of goals or objectives on how to move forward,” she said.
A spokesman for the governor said the administration did meet with legislative leadership on the issue before the fall session, and a memo was also shared that “outlines the plan.”
Goulet said the money would have gone, in part, to an effort to update the unemployment compensation program’s 40-year-old computer system.
She said it’s likely the employee cutbacks will slow down service at the state’s seven centers that process jobless claims, and could potentially lead to some of those centers closing entirely.