Morning Must Reads: Red Tape Is for the Unlucky In Pennsylvania

Click To EnlargeAfter signing legislation complicating the determination of eligibility for unemployment insurance, the Corbett administration is laying off frontline workers in Philadelphia who help recently unemployed workers determine their eligibility. Pennsylvania in the last five years has lagged the nation in delivering on-time benefits to workers eligible for unemployment insurance. Before public-sector layoffs began in 2011, Pennsylvania already had the 2nd smallest public-sector workforce in the country.

It was one of those stunning twists of irony at the Philadelphia Unemployment Compensation Service Center on Monday afternoon, when the center's 75 state employees were called into a room and told that, effective Aug. 15, they'd be out of work.

As the state often does when there are mass layoffs, it sent a team of experts to help the about-to-be jobless learn how to apply for unemployment benefits. Except that everyone in the room already knew — after all, it's their job to answer the phones and to process claims ...

"Unfreaking believable," said Sharon Dietrich, a normally calm lawyer who heads the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia's employment law practice. CLS provides legal services to low-income clients, and Dietrich has been working with the state's unemployment-benefit system for decades.

"I'm so apoplectic, I can't tell you," she said. "If they were simply reducing staff, I would understand that. It is true that unemployment staffing waxes and wanes. But to close an entire service center seems like an extreme measure at a time when they have all these needs that aren't being met."

She described a client who spent 45 minutes dialing the office and then once his call was received, spent another 45 minutes on hold. He can't use a computer, because he doesn't have one and because he's unemployed, he can't afford to take a bus to the library.

Pennsylvania already lags behind most other states in its ability to deliver initial benefits in a timely manner. The national standard mandated by law, Dietrich said, is that 87 percent of all first benefits must be delivered within 14 days after the initial claim is filed. In June, the department did meet the standard, but that has not usually been the case over the last five years, according to federal statistics.

Click To EnlargeIn a New York Times story reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Corbett administration engages in some painfully bad reasoning. They argue that the previous administration was irresponsible for spending federal Recovery Act money.

Except, the recovery dollars were supposed to be spent, that is the point! Cuts in government spending lead to job losses and job losses during a time of high unemployment are bad.

Cuts in spending during the Corbett administration have slowed the pace of job growth in Pennsylvania. The economy does not grow faster when the public sector contracts. Or as Dean Baker explains, Expansionary Austerity doesn't work in theory or practice. As the story above on unemployment insurance eligibility determination illustrates, it does however erode the quality of public services.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett has been talking about the state's looming fiscal problems since before he took office in January 2011. He pointed to the state's use of federal stimulus money to pay for recurring costs. 

Mr. Corbett has pushed through two lean state budgets, the first one making substantial cuts to university subsidies and the second passed last month that held those subsidies to the same level as the previous year. Because of stagnant state revenue, the Legislature approved a budget of $28.05 billion for 2010-11; $27.14 billion for 2011-12; and $27.66 for 2012-13. 

"Both during the campaign and as governor, Gov. Corbett talked about [previous Gov.] Ed Rendell's irresponsible spending of stimulus dollars that helped create a $4.2 billion deficit last year," said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley. "We're still feeling the effects of that irresponsible spending by Rendell."


0 comments posted

Post new comment

Comment Policy:

Thank you for joining the conversation. Comments are limited to 1,500 characters and are subject to approval and moderation. We reserve the right to remove comments that:

  • are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate;
  • contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs;
  • solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites or to sell products or services;
  • may infringe the copyright or intellectual property rights of others or other applicable laws or regulations; or
  • are otherwise inconsistent with the goals of this blog.

Posted comments do not necessarily represent the views of the Keystone Research Center or Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and do not constitute official endorsement by either organization. Please note that comments will be approved during the Keystone Research Center's business hours.

If you have questions, please contact [email protected]

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <img>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.