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.

Senate Drilling Fee Moves Forward, with Changes that Further Weaken Bill

Drilling RigPennsylvania State Senator Joe Scarnati's legislation to enact a Marcellus Shale gas drilling fee was amended and voted out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee by unanimous votes Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the amendment offered by committee chair, state Senator Mary Jo White (R-Venango), makes an already weak bill a lot weaker.

Umbrellas on a Sunny Day

On a recent sunny lunch hour, several dozen advocates for children and working families opened umbrellas overhead as they gathered outside Philadelphia City Hall. Not because of anything in the weather forecast, but to send a message to lawmakers in Harrisburg that when it comes to the state's finances, it is still raining in Pennsylvania.

Third and State This Week: Preserving Tobacco Funds for Health Care, Fasting for PA's Vulnerable and the May Jobs Report

This week, we blogged about the latest job numbers, efforts to preserve tobacco settlement dollars for health care services, paid sick days legislation and more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On health care, intern Emma Lowenberg blogs about an effort by consumer health advocates to urge the state Senate to preserve Pennsylvania's share of tobacco settlement funds for health care purposes.
  • On the state budget, Chris Lilienthal writes about the "Fast for PA's Vulnerable," an effort by Harrisburg faith leader Stephen Drachler to draw attention to the impact of budget decisions on Pennsylvania's most vulnerable by abstaining from solid foods.
  • On unemployment and the economy, Emma sums up the May jobs report by turning to the expert analysis of four leading economists.
  • And on workplace issues, Steve Herzenberg shares a recent op-ed he coauthored with economics and labor studies professor Lonnie Golden on the benefits of paid sick days in Philadelphia.

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

Advocates Ask Senate to Keep Tobacco Funds for Health Care

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Emma Lowenberg, InternBy Emma Lowenberg, Intern

Consumer health advocates from across the state came to Harrisburg Wednesday to speak out against a plan that would redirect the state’s share of a legal settlement with tobacco companies away from health care purposes.

Since 2001, tobacco settlement dollars have helped seniors age at home, reduce tobacco- related health care costs, and offset some of the costs for hospitals treating uninsured patients. They support life sciences research that brings jobs and wealth to the Commonwealth.

And until March, tobacco funds helped provide health insurance for the uninsured through the state’s adultBasic program. That program was ended in March after another funding source expired.

Now, a state budget plan that passed the House would eliminate the Tobacco Settlement altogether and fold those funds into the state’s General Fund. The Governor has also proposed diverting $220 million from the fund to create a business loan program.

In meetings with senators and at a Capitol press conference, advocates working with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network made the case for preserving the tobacco funds as a dedicated source for health care funding.

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