Unemployed protesters hold signs at a House Labor and Industry Committee meeting on May 24, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)
Starting July 18, Pennsylvania unemployment recipients must prove they are looking for work to receive benefits.
The move, sought by General Assembly Republicans for weeks, was announced by Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier at a House committee hearing on Monday morning.
Under state law, recipients of jobless benefits typically must apply for two jobs, and conduct one “work search activity,” such as attending a job fair, each week to qualify for unemployment.
But the General Assembly suspended this requirement from March until December 2020 via legislation.
Since then, Gov. Tom Wolf has continued to suspend this regulation under his emergency powers. But such a suspension could not continue indefinitely, Berrier said.
This announcement also comes less than a week after voters approved two constitutional amendments to restrict the Democratic governor’s emergency powers — and those of his successors.
Unemployment recipients must begin applying for jobs the week of July 11 to show they’ve met the requirement for the week of July 18.
Beneficiaries must keep records of their job search themselves, and be able to produce the documents if the department requests them. Advocates for the unemployed have argued such an arrangement only creates an extra headache for recipients.
John Dodds, of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, compared the threat of a sudden request for job search documentation to harassment. Whether the program helps, he added, will depend on what kind of jobs employers have to offer.
“If they have jobs, decent jobs, that’ll be great. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t,” Dobbs said. “But I find a lot of employers are still trying to pay $12, $13 an hour like that’s some kind of big job.”
The Wolf administration’s sudden announcement was welcomed by Republicans, such as Labor and Industry Committee Chairman Rep Jim Cox, R-Berks. However, GOP lawmakers pushed for an even quicker timeline.
“I would have liked it to be sooner,” Cox told the Capital-Star. “If that’s her opening offer, then let’s sit down and talk about how we can get it there faster. I’m not sure why July is the magic date and not June.”
The committee advanced Cox’s own legislation to immediately restore the work requirement earlier this month, and it’s due for a floor vote in the House this week. A similar bill in the Senate is slated for a committee vote this week as well.
Cox has also proposed removing Pennsylvania from the extended federal benefits. These programs provided an extra $300 a week to the unemployed as well as the pandemic unemployment assistance program, which covers the self employed and others who do not receive traditional jobless benefits.
Upon removing a Pennsylvanian from the extended benefits, his bill would use $154 million in federal stimulus dollars to provide up to $600 in bonuses to recently unemployed people who work up to eight consecutive weeks at a new job.
The House Labor and Industry Committee will vote on the proposal Tuesday.
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