HARRISBURG – Today the House Appropriations Committee heard from the Department of Labor Industry (L&I). Here are the key takeaways from the day:
Frustration with unemployment delays a constant theme among lawmakers:
• Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington) live-called the Unemployment Compensation Call Center and received a busy signal to lead off questioning. Berrier had no answer for why Pennsylvanians are repeatedly spending days waiting for someone to answer the phone and then another two to nine weeks before they receive a response to questions other than to say the issues are “complex.”
• Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D- Philadelphia) asked Acting L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier if the current 92-day timeframe for unemployment adjudications is acceptable. While Berrier admitted it is not, she could not offer a timeframe or plan for reducing it.
Half a million jobs permanently lost following the governor’s shutdown orders:
• Berrier testified in response to Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana) that Pennsylvania was experiencing record employment in February of 2020, with over 6.1 million Pennsylvanians employed. She added that 1.12 million Pennsylvanians initially lost employment following the governor’s shutdown orders. By November, only 57% of those jobs were restored, leaving approximately 500,000 jobs permanently lost.
• Over the past year, Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system has made $37 billion in payments on 2.4 million claims.
Department of Health (DOH) deputized L&I employees while unemployment calls remained unanswered:
• Throughout appropriations hearings, we have heard repeatedly about the DOH and the Governor’s Office’s failure to communicate with other agencies regarding COVID shutdown orders and vaccine distribution. Berrier testified that 27 employees from L&I’s enforcement office were deputized by the DOH to investigate 400 employers. “I just find it ironic that the Department of Health, in their lack of communication with almost every other department, did find it necessary to communicate to bring aboard other departments when it came down to bringing the hammer down on more of our small businesses that have been devastated through much of this process,” said Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford).
Secretary of Labor and Industry not privy to discussions or impact studies on Gov. Wolf’s proposal to hike taxes on small businesses by almost 50%.
• Berrier told Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Wayne) that she has not talked to the governor about the impact on small businesses of his proposal to increase the personal income tax by almost 50%. Upon follow-up, Berrier admitted to Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester) that she has “not been privy to those internal conversations and impact studies.”
House Republican Caucus
Pennsylvania House of Representatives