After a two month recess, the General Assembly reconvened for the fall legislative session. For the first time since the end of the Great Recession, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has steadily risen to meet the national average. With only one month remaining before adjourning until next year, the House Finance Committee swiftly approved legislation by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (Centre) aimed to bolster job creation.
Upon the successful passage of the state budget, legislators have returned to their districts for summer recess. At this time, Keystone Liberty will review and highlight the many legislative achievements and stalemates of this session before adjourning for the summer.
For years, budget negotiations have been burdened with unyielding challenges designed at reversing the Commonwealth’s financial footing. Lawmakers are now facing the consequences of decades of unsustainable government spending. The Great Recession met with a harsh reality as tax revenues dropped substantially. With sluggish growth, Pennsylvania’s families are faced with the constant struggle to make ends meet. In a step in the right direction, the Corbett administration ruled out tax hikes as a means of balancing the public ledger. Fiscal responsibility is clearly associated with tough decisions as significant spending cuts continue to be made. In difficult fiscal times, there is no room for fraudulent entitlement claims. To this end, House Republicans have introduced legislation designed at cracking down on the abuse of unemployment benefits.
According to PA Independent, taxpayers funded more than $367 million in overpayments and fraudulent claims last year alone. This equates to a 10 percent payment error. Unfortunately, this mismanagement of taxpayer money has totaled more than a billion dollars since 2008. There have even been reports of prison inmates collecting benefits. It is an injustice that valuable programs and services are facing substantial cuts when the state government is wasting tremendous sums of money on fraudulent entitlement claims.
The bills proposed by the House Labor and Industry Committee would eliminate existing limitations for curtailing fraud and prohibit those individuals who choose to quit their jobs from receiving benefits. It is clearly an oversight that these common sense measures were not incorporated into unemployment benefit practices at its inception. The Democratic chair of the committee seems to be overlooking such common sense practices along with the billion dollars in government mismanagement. The Philadelphia Democrat exclaims that these measures will only make it “harder” for people to collect benefits in times of need. Yes, it would be harder for those individuals who illegitimately receive benefits based on fraudulent claims.
The Democratic chair also claims that these reforms will not address the unemployment fund’s insolvency. If the Representative was truly concerned about solvency, he would have pushed for these bills four years ago and saved more than $1 billion. The Commonwealth now owes more than $3.7 billion to the federal government unemployment fund. This outlandish debt is set to collect interest. If Pennsylvania is unable to pay, the federal government will be forced to impose higher unemployment taxes on working Keystone residents.
The stakes are high in the budget process and Republicans must pass the reform provisions for unemployment compensation. Pennsylvania cannot afford to waste money on overpayments and fraudulent claims. The Commonwealth already owes billions to the federal government. Putting an end to cases of abuse is the first step toward reaching a state of solvency. Lawmakers must meticulously examine areas of waste and abuse in other government agencies and departments before cutting health and educational services.
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