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Why Seasonal Workers In PA Are Denied Jobless Benefits

A 2012 Pennsylvanian law aimed at making the Unemployment Compensation Fund more solvent inadvertently took its toll on seasonal workers.

The Senate Labor and Industry Committee is holding hearings to determine how to fix this law.

Three years ago, the General Assembly took action to reduce a $4 billion debt to the federal government.

Workers who earn at least 50.5 percent of their annual income in any three month period are ineligible for jobless benefits. Previously it had been 63 percent. This affected one type of workers in particular — seasonal employees.

“Those that have a specific skill that they could utilize only in certain times of the year depending on weather or whatever the case may be, and unfortunately, through the new formula, it really had a negative impact on a number of families across the state,” said Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie).

Last week's hearing in Erie was conducted by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), the chairwoman of the committee, along with Sens. Scott Wagner (R-York) and Wiley. Residents of Erie and others who traveled from across the state testified about the impact the changes made, according to Wiley.

For most workers in the fields such as road construction, tourism, and recreation, the law means that once the workload tapers down and they are laid off for a few months, that they aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation.

“We have families that are without any income at all for those number of months and that’s leading to a number of different issues that these families are facing,” said Wiley.

One example Wiley gives is of construction workers who have a specific time to complete a project. Many are working extensive amounts of overtime to complete the project, which might make them ineligible for unemployment.

According to Wiley, employers are affected as well and have a difficult time attracting and retaining employees in these particular fields.

“It would be very difficult for someone to gravitate to a specific job knowing that they’re not going to be able to have any income in the months that they’re not actively working,” he said.

Wiley says it’s imperative to make changes to the law now, before the winter season begins and construction season ends, so families are not going to be negatively impacted yet again going into 2016.

“What we need to do is we need to go back and fix what has been done, we need to come to some compromise and some solution that will not only maintain the solvency of the fund but also address the concerns of so many families across the state,” he said.

According to Wiley, the Labor and Industry Committee will hold a similar hearing in Philadelphia and then begin to craft legislation to resolve the problem.