Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pennsylvania Legislature to Unemployed: "First, let's tax all the peasants."

After ignoring the mounting debt to the Federal Government for unemployment compensation payments for several years, both houses of the Pennsylvania Legislature passed, and employers' friend Governor Corbett rapidly signed legislation which would authorize up to $4.5 billion in bonds designed to attack the staggering debt.

In the four years since the economy started to tank in 2008, the legislature has engaged in countless interim steps designed to address this debt by continuously whittling away at the benefits, essentially requiring those victimized by the recession to pay the Commonwealth's debt instead of asking employers to shoulder any responsibility whatsoever.

As a result, Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation law now provides that:

  1. Severance pay above a certain amount is reduces unemployment compensation benefits, regardless of the reason for the severance pay, such as the settlement of an discrimination claim.
  2. A claimant is not eligible unless at least 49.5% of his or her base earnings are in the three quarters outside of the highest quarter.  This will knock approximately 48,000 off the rolls right away.
  3. The partial benefit credit is reduced one third from 40% to 30%.
  4. The maximum weekly benefit is frozen through 2019, seven years from now.

Some of these changes took effect January 1st of 2012, others will take effect next year.  One thing that hasn't taken effect is any increase in the UC tax....not in years.  The ultimate result is the disqualification or reduction in benefits to hundreds of thousands of economically disadvantaged citizens of the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, claims representatives at state Unemployment Compensation offices are engaging in heightened scrutiny to look for increased opportunities to: (1) seek repayment for benefits already paid; (2) knock off the rolls of the unemployed anyone who accepts a freelance job and reports the income; and (3) call countless unemployed professionals "self-employed" if they accept any consulting work.  Dealing with the brain trust in Erie and Altoona has resulted in increased hearings before referees, an increased need for counsel to assist these now being victimized by the UC system itself --- and on top of it all, the legislature now wants to tax legal fees!

It is simply too hot this July to make Christmas references, but Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania Legislature are making an early run for Scrooge of the Year.

Some of the information relied upon for this post was obtained from the Society for Human Resources Management, and other information from Michael Hollander, Esquire of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, whose assistance is sincerely appreciated.

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