House committee OKs unemployment compensation bill — with strings

David Weissman
  • The bill will provide up to $15 million for state's unemployment compensation system.
  • Senate passed bill last week, but amendment added, meaning Senate must vote on concurrence.
  • Department furloughed 500 employees and closed three centers, leading to increased call wait times.

After passing through the Senate last week, a bill to provide additional funding to operate the state's unemployment compensation system was unanimously voted through the House Labor and Industry Committee on Monday.

The Harrisburg #Savethe600 Unemployment Compensation Workers Rally is held outside the Labor and Industry Building in Harrisburg, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Senate Bill 250 offers to authorize up to $15 million of additional funding to the state Department of Labor and Industry for unemployment compensation service operations.

Despite the unanimous approval, Democrats on the committee did take issue with an amendment added by Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin County.

Kauffman's amendment, which was approved, spells out exactly how that money must be used by the department, specifically with regard to staffing certain offices.

The department has been suffering from a drastic increase in call-wait times to its centers since it furloughed about 500 employees and closed three centers in December.

The furloughs and closures followed a decision by the Republican-controlled Senate not to vote on a bill that would have provided $57.5 million in additional funding for those operations.

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Based on figures provided by the department, Kauffman's amendment would allow the department to bring back approximately 214 employees for nine months while the Legislature works out a long-term solution, according to a spokesman for the committee.

Department spokeswoman Theresa Elliott said the department is currently evaluating the potential impact of a short-term infusion of resources, but she could not provide a specific number of employees or locations where they would be brought back.

Dover Township resident Rich Preller, one of the furloughed employees, said he and his former colleagues are happy to see momentum but disappointed the proposed bill would only bring back about half of the affected employees.

Preller, 70, has been unable to find work since being furloughed from the Harrisburg office.

The Democratic committee members' concerns mostly centered around the amendment slowing the process, as the bill must now return to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

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Kauffman assured committee members he had spoken with Republican Sen. Kim Ward, the bill's primary sponsor, about the amendment, and she told him the Senate would still back the proposal.

The Senate approved the original bill, 39-8, with dissenters including Sens. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township; Mike Folmer, R-York, Dauphin and Lebanon counties; and Mike Regan, R-York and Cumberland counties.

Rep. John Galloway, the committee's minority chairman, said he hopes Kauffman is right because the issue has been lingering for too long already.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.