Some Details Emerge on 2011-12 Pa. Budget Deal

Some details emerged Monday on the 2011-12 state budget deal recently reached by Pennsylvania's legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett.

Much like earlier proposals, this budget plan includes deep cuts to education, health care and other cost-effective local services, while leaving much of a $550 million revenue surplus untouched.

KRC Makes Wall Street Journal Setting Record Straight on Marcellus Jobs

The Keystone Research Center made The Wall Street Journal last week in a story on what the media is characterizing as a “political tussle” over the number of Pennsylvania jobs created in Marcellus Shale-related industries.

On Tuesday, we released a brief showing that less than 10,000 Pennsylvania jobs have been created in Marcellus industries since the end of 2007. The brief corrected recent press reports that confused “new hires” with “new jobs” and made the inaccurate claim that 48,000 new Marcellus jobs had been created. "New hires" and "new jobs" are not the same because most new hires replace people who quit, were fired, or retired.

In the same period that Marcellus industries reported 48,000 new hires (the fourth quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2011), there were 2.8 million “new hires” in all Pennsylvania industries — but only 85,467 jobs created. To measure job growth you have to use — big surprise — a jobs data base. That’s what we did.

Third and State This Week: Insurance Exchanges, Marcellus Drilling Impact Fee and Unemployment Benefits

This week, we blogged about a state legislative hearing on structuring insurance exchanges, 11 things to hate about the state Senate drilling impact fee bill, the fine print on a compromise reached to continue federal extended unemployment benefits to 45,000 Pennsylvanians, and more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On health care, Intern Emma Lowenberg has a nice summary of a Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee informational meeting this week that featured a presentation on how Massachusetts structured its state health insurance exchange and what Pennsylvania can learn from it as it moves toward creating its own.
  • On the Marcellus Shale, Sharon Ward blogs about the top 11 things to hate about the state Senate drilling impact fee bill.
  • On jobs and unemployment, Stephen Herzenberg takes a closer look at the compromise reached in the Pennsylvania Legislature last week that allowed 45,000 unemployed workers (and another 90,000 through the end of the year) to continue receiving extended federal unemployment benefits.
  • Finally, on poverty, Chris Lilienthal passes on an update from Community Legal Services in Philadelphia on a class action lawsuit that is proceeding on behalf of 359,000 low-income Pennsylvanians who are blind, disabled or elderly and saw a cut in early 2010 to a modest state benefit.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get a Lesson on Massachusetts' Health Insurance Exchange

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Emma Lowenberg, InternBy Emma Lowenberg, Intern

Members of the Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee heard from a national expert today on Massachusetts’ experience structuring a health insurance exchange.

States have until 2014 to create state-based health insurance exchanges that meet the criteria set forth in the Affordable Care Act. If they do not create a satisfactory exchange by then, the federal government will establish one for them.

While emphasizing that there is no “one size fits all” approach for states as they structure insurance exchanges, Dr. Jon Kingsdale said Pennsylvania can learn a thing or two from the Massachusetts experience.

Class Action Lawsuit Proceeds over Benefit Cuts for 359,000 Low-Income Pennsylvanians

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In February 2010, more than 359,000 low-income Pennsylvanians unable to work because of a disability, blindness or age were dealt a blow when a modest monthly state benefit was cut.

These Pennsylvanians receive a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment of no more than $674 per month. In addition to this federal benefit, they receive a state-funded payment called the State Supplementary Payment (SSP).

In February 2010, the state benefit was cut from $27.40 per month for an individual (in most cases) to $22.10. This may not seem like a big cut, but as Michael Froehlich at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia notes:

To SSI recipients, this reduction in their income was significant.  The combined SSI and SSP monthly amounts of $696.10 for an individual now equal less than 78% of poverty.  For many SSI recipients, the reduction in SSP meant a missed meal, a medical co-pay that could not be met, or a paratransit ride that could not be taken.

In November, Community Legal Services along with the law firm Dechert LLP filed a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare alleging that the Department broke the law by cutting the SSP benefit without first seeking public comment.

11 Things to Hate about the Senate Drilling Fee Bill

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Last week, the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee amended legislation to create a Marcellus Shale drilling impact fee in Pennsylvania. The full Senate could vote on it as soon as this week.

To channel my inner David Letterman, I have here a copy of the top 10 11 things to hate about this plan. (There was so much to hate about it, we couldn't even fit it into a top 10 list.)

Now That We’ve Read the Fine Print … Another Look at Pennsylvania's Unemployment Compromise

As Mark Price has noted, the Pennsylvania Legislature approved a compromise bill last week that avoids cutting off 13 weeks of federally funded extended unemployment insurance benefits to 45,000 Pennsylvanians now and will allow another 90,000 Pennsylvanians to qualify for extended benefits through the end of 2011. This year, the bill will draw down $350 million in additional federal funds.

It would have been crazy in this economy, and unfair to 135,000 Pennsylvanians and their families, to leave $350 million in federal funds on the table. But there is a catch with this compromise bill. You see, this bill also contains “savings”— that is, cuts in benefits — that the Department of Labor and Industry estimates will equal almost $1 billion between 2012 and 2018. Permanent savings estimated at $133 million per year in exchange for about six months of additional benefits equal to $350 million.

Third and State This Week: Unemployment Benefits, Drilling Fee Bill and the Latest Jobs Report

This week, we blogged about a drilling fee bill moving in the Pennsylvania Senate, a resolution to the legislative standoff over extended unemployment benefits, an update on the May jobs report and more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On Marcellus Shale, Michael Wood writes about changes to Senator Joseph Scarnati's drilling impact fee plan that makes an already weak bill a lot weaker.
  • On the state budget, Kate Atkins blogs about a budget rally last week that featured umbrellas on a sunny day and a message to lawmakers that fiscally and economically it is still raining in Pennsylvania.
  • On unemployment, Mark Price highlights the passage of state legislation that preserves extended federal unemployment benefits for 45,000 Pennsylvanians but comes at a cost for future unemployed workers.
  • Finally, on jobs and the economy, Mark writes that Pennsylvania's May jobs report provides some cause for concern.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

May Jobs Report Cause for Concern

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4% in May, down from 7.5% in April, according to a report from the state Department of Labor and Industry today.

Overall, the seasonally adjusted number of nonfarm jobs in Pennsylvania dropped 14,200 in May, at 5,678,000.

The Keystone Research Center will release a more detailed analysis of the May jobs report on Friday, but for now here is a press statement that I put out on today's report.

House to Vote on Extended Unemployment Benefits Today

Updated: June 17, 2011 - Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has carefully analyzed the bill that finally passed the Legislature. As they explain, the legislation includes provisions that permanently cut unemployment benefits for thousands of workers in the future.  Many of these changes hurt low wage workers in particular. We'll have more on this in the coming days.

The Pennsylvania House is expected to take up legislation today that would continue extended federal unemployment benefits for 45,000 out-of-work Pennsylvanians now (and up to 90,000 through the end of the year). If they approve it, state Senate leaders plan a vote in that chamber on Friday.

This is great news after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations between House and Senate leaders over whether this legislation should also include benefit cuts and other longer-term changes to the state's unemployment insurance system.

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