Long-term jobless in state to lose benefits
About 30,000 unemployed Pennsylvania residents will be affected by a new, 13-week reduction in the length of jobless benefits, state officials said.
Unemployment benefits -- which lasted as long as 99 weeks during the depths of the Great Recession -- will last a maximum of 73 weeks. The reduction is the second this year.
The state's declining unemployment rate is too low for the federal government to authorize continued payment of extended benefits, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The last payable week of extended benefits will be the week ending May 12. The first cut in federal benefits this year came in February and followed other reductions last year.
There are 306,000 people in Pennsylvania who receive unemployment compensation, and the latest cut in benefits affects about 10 percent, said state spokesman Christopher S. Manlove.
The state will notify by mail individuals affected by the change.
Pennsylvania's unemployment rate declined to 7.5 percent in March, a drop from 9.1 percent in August 2011. Residents became ineligible for the extra federal assistance because the March rate fell below a three-month average unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, the state said.
The reduction drew mixed reactions from an economist and advocates for the unemployed.
Dave Ninehouser, Pittsburgh coordinator for PA Wants to Work, a statewide advocacy group for workers, said the reduction is happening too quickly.
"The national economic situation is improving but many people are still struggling. This will be bad for the economic recovery and for consumer spending," Ninehouser said.
Nicole Flaherty, a lawyer with the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee who represents people at unemployment hearings, questioned whether conditions have improved enough to reduce the duration of benefits.
"It is still tough out there for a lot of people. And unemployment figures are always an undercount. It only counts people who are looking for work, when many people have just given up," she said.
Yet reduction of lengthy emergency benefits is inevitable, said Frank Gamrat, an economist and senior research associate at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a think tank in Castle Shannon.
"It makes sense for the federal government to pull back as things get better. The economy has been growing, even if it's not as much as people would like," he said.
Pennsylvania pays for 26 weeks of unemployment. Additional weeks are paid by the federal government.
"It's a lot of money to pay for unemployment, and reducing benefits could help the deficit a bit and help Congress work out a budget," Gamrat said.