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February 14, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

PA bills seek tighter regs for unemployment law

By Stacy Brown | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Collecting unemployment is about to get tougher for Pennsylvanians, particularly those who commit fraud and those who quit their jobs.

Lawmakers in the House Labor and Industry Committee took this hard line in the hopes of curbing overpayments to claimants that totaled more than $376 million last year and address the unemployment insurance fund's insolvency.
 
The bills voted out of committee on Monday were:
Both bills will go to the full House for consideration and a vote as early as this week.
 
In Pennsylvania, there is no statute of limitations for charges of murder, vehicular homicide and conspiracy to commit murder. The statute of limitations, which can differ from state to state depending on the crime or offense, is the time limit for prosecuting a crime.
 
But unemployment fraud, like burglary, kidnapping and assault, has a statute of limitations. Currently, unemployment fraud allows up to four years for reporting fraud and up to six years for prosecution.The legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations for unemployment fraud.
 
Also, HB 1852 would levy fines of 15 percent of the amount paid on false claims by inmates and make them ineligible for any future claims.
 
 
That raised the ire of lawmakers who had been working for months to try and address the unemployment insurance compensation problem in the state, House Labor and Industry Committee Minority Chairman William Keller, D-Philadelphia, said.
 
Lawmakers also are seeking to prevent those from quitting their jobs to obtain unemployment benefits, unless the claimant is a victim of domestic violence who may fear going to work.
 
HB 1754 could save the commonwealth about $376 million, based on last year's overpayments calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor's Benefit Accuracy Measurement program. This program determines the accuracy of paid and denied claims in the state-provided unemployment insurance programs.
 
The measure allows the claimant to produce a letter from a clergy member as proof of domestic violence. Currently, a restraining order filed with the court or a police report is required.
 
The proposal would allow any priest, pastor or member of a church's governing body to write a letter supporting a domestic violence victim's claim of abuse.
 
Lawmakers said they hope some relief would come to the state's unemployment compensation fund, which is insolvent. The state owes the federal government more than $3.7 billion from borrowed unemployment payments.
 
"The No. 1 thing with unemployment is trying to fix the solvency issue," said House Labor and Industry Committee Minority Chairman William Keller, D- Philadelphia. "These two bills don't do that and they are just making it harder for people to collect during these tough economic times. No, we don't want inmates collecting, but this doesn't address the fact that the fund is insolvent."
 
 
Of the nearly $3.33 billion in unemployment compensation the state paid out between July 2010 and June 2011, an estimated $376 million, or 11 percent, were erroneous payments, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
 
Only California and Indiana had higher totals of benefits paid in error last year than Pennsylvania. Indiana paid out an estimated $567 million in overpayments, more than 59 percent of all payments, while California’s $455 million in overpayments accounted for less than 6 percent of the state’s total.
 
"While these bills today doesn't directly address the problem of solvency, it will have some impact in that it will save money from fraudulent claims and it will help prevent paying out false claims such as those paid to prisoners," said House Labor and Industry Majority Chairman Ron Miller, R-York. "These bills also puts clarity into whether a person is eligible for unemployment compensation."
 
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which represents businesses in the state, was pleased with the bills because they make it tougher for those who quit their jobs to receive benefits, said Sam Denisco, the chamber's vice president of government affairs.
 
"We are fully in support of these bills because right now, people who are terminated for cause or those who quit their jobs are getting unemployment benefits," Denisco said. "We need to rein (unemployment abuse) in and develop reasonable standards for claimants and employers."
 
Messages left for Rick Bloomingdale, CEO of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO,  a coalition of unions in the state, were not returned Monday.
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