As deadline looms, Pa. House advances unemployment cuts

    Pennsylvania House Republicans are scaling back their unemployment-compensation reform ambitions.

    A few weeks after failing to pass a measure cutting costs and benefits by $630 million a year, the Labor and Industry Committee approved a bill generating $147 million in annual savings. York County Republican Scott Perry, who pushed for the more sweeping overhaul, said it’s a step in the right direction.

    “Am I disappointed? Sure. Does this go a long way toward solving solvency? It doesn’t go far enough for me, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I have a commitment that we’re going to revisit solvency in the fall, and take a whack at that specifically,” he said. “Are these significant unemployment compensation reforms that haven’t been addressed in the last 30 years? Absolutely.”

    The new House bill, which requires unemployment recipients to actively look for a job, would delay assistance for those receiving more than $11,000 in severance payments. It would not massively restructure the way benefits are calculated, as Perry’s initial measure did.

    The legislation approved by the committee is an amended version of Republican John Gordner’s bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in May. It initially cut costs by about $60 million a year. Gordner said he’s fine with the House doubling his legislation’s cost-savings, but objects to two portions of the new language. If the sections are taken out on the House floor this week, he says Senate Republicans could concur and send the measure directly to Gov. Tom Corbett. If not, the Senate would need to make more changes, sending the legislation to a conference committee, and complicating efforts to arrive at a law by week’s end.

    The deadline is in place due to federal regulations, which would end extended benefits for 45,000 Pennsylvanians, if changes aren’t made by June 11. However, as is the case with most legal deadlines, lawmakers can extend it a bit.

    “We do know from the Department of Labor and Industry, because of the delay in paying benefits that we probably have until June 15 in order to actually get a bill to the governor,” Gordner explained. “So that does give us a few extra days.”

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