Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives will consider a bill that would change the way unemployment benefits are calculated, taking almost $500 million out of jobless residents’ pockets each year. The author of the legislation, Rep. Scott Perry, argues that many unscrupulous workers take advantage of the current system, which uses a person’s highest earning quarter as a metric for calculating payout amounts. The new system would average each applicant’s best three previous quarters, a blow to many of the 70 percent of claimants whose wages are uneven throughout the year.
Tedious calculations aside, Perry is singing a popular Republican refrain about expensive government services sinking state economies. But unlike states such as California and Illinois struggling with massive budget deficits, Pennsylvania has a $500 million surplus this year. So lacking the kind of urgency that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker drummed up for his anti-union campaign, Perry is trotting out the tired specter of the welfare queen to spook voters. This so the average weekly unemployment payment can be cut to below $300. But, hey, Perry says, it’s just a “fairness thing.” —KDG
Is there a significant number of lazy, dishonorable Pennsylvanians with such a keen grasp of the state’s unemployment compensation formula?
“Believe it or not, there are people out there that understand the system very well and use it in that regard,” Perry said, adding that he learned of the problem from people who adjudicate unemployment claims. “It’s not a huge proportion of the unemployment-receiving population, but there are those individuals out there and that’s not the type of thing as a government, as a society, that we want to incentivize, in my opinion.”
Dietrich, who strongly opposes Perry’s proposal, does not believe such a problem exists.
“Not only have I never heard of it, I can’t imagine it,” she said. “I have been practicing [unemployment compensation] law for 25 years, and I wouldn’t understand benefit calculation enough to manipulate the system. UC benefit calculation is arcane, technical stuff. I simply don’t believe that laypeople would know how to game the system in that way, much less that they are doing it.”
Rep. Perry's office
Pennsylvania state Rep. Scott Perry, foreground.