Senator pushing legislation to ban such withdrawals
By Darwyyn Deyo | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — State agencies are not keeping track of what could be millions in unemployment compensation benefits being withdrawn from ATMs at Pennsylvania casinos — and this lack of information has one state senator asking for a ban.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, or DL&I, which disburses unemployment compensation benefits, does not track the withdrawal of benefits from ATMs anywhere, because it does not have the means to do so, said Christopher Manlove, spokesman for DL&I.
Neither does the state Gaming Control Board, or GCB, which was established to regulate the gaming industry in Pennsylvania. However, only DL&I has the authority to regulate unemployment benefits, said Richard McGarvey, GCB spokesman.
The average unemployment benefit is about $300 per week. There are approximately 477,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians, according to the most recent statistics.
The question of how much unemployment compensation benefits end up on the casino floor was raised when state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to SB 1030 before the bill was passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
SB 1030 would reform eligibility for some unemployment compensation benefits in order to meet a June 11 federal deadline for an extended 13-week benefits period for about 45,000 Pennsylvanians.
Boscola’s amendment would have banned access to unemployment compensation from ATMs in casinos.
Unemployment compensation benefits are distributed either by direct deposit to an individual’s bank account — which Boscola’s legislation would not regulate — or in a debit card.
“That money was meant to be spent on your essentials, not blown away at a casino,” said Boscola “It’s irresponsible to do that with other people’s money. You (contribute) maybe 1 percent of your benefits in your lifetime … it’s a very small amount that comes out of your paycheck.”
The senator argued what already is being done with EBT cards issued by the Department of Public Welfare should be done with unemployment compensation cards.
“This is a simple fix,” said Boscola. “In fact you don’t have to do this by bill. The state Gaming Control Board can do this with regulation. You can’t access a welfare card in casinos … they’re blocked out.”
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Republicans, argued the issue was opposed by both Republicans and Democrats, as evidenced by a 36-13 vote against the amendment. There are 50 members in the Senate.
“It’s an earned benefit; it’s something you’ve paid into as a worker, something that’s limited in scope and duration,” said Arneson. “For government to control what people spend that money on is a pretty dramatic step. Should we also prohibit people from purchasing lottery tickets? Should we also prohibit them from purchasing cigarettes?”
Arneson also pointed to a potentially higher cost to manage oversight of the regulation.
“If you want to have the same rules applied to everybody receiving unemployment compensation, there would be a cost to that,” said Arneson. “You’d have to switch everybody to the debit card. … That’s not a reform to the unemployment compensation system in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t save a penny.”
Boscola also has introduced the same language as a bill this year, after a similar measure failed to pass this past session.
Her bill has not moved out of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee since January.
“When you owe the (federal) government $3.7 billion for unemployment compensation benefits, how do you let people use this at the casino?” said Boscola. “I’m here to fight it.”