Big wave of Pa. Jobless Exhausts Benefits Checks

By: Marc Levy AP Email
By: Marc Levy AP Email

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Thousands of jobless Pennsylvanians are
joining the growing ranks of people around the country who are exhausting unemployment benefits, as some experts worry about
another blow to a stumbling economy.

The state Department of Labor and Industry said between 20,000 and 25,000 Pennsylvanians exhausted their jobless benefits in the week that ended Saturday, the first big wave of Pennsylvanians to do so.

Around the country, the number of people exhausting their benefits is piling up. By the end of September, more than 500,000 people will exhaust their benefits checks, with the biggest groups in Pennsylvania, California and Texas, according to estimates by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers based in New York City.

That number will nearly triple by the end of the year, the group said.

Economist Mark Price of the Harrisburg-based Keystone Research Center, which is affiliated with organized labor, said the loss of that spending money in such a large quantity is likely to force businesses to lay off employees, deepening the economic doldrums.

"As those people stop spending, it will mean businesses have less income and they'll start cutting back workers or hours," Price said. "We're still in a situation that it's not clear we've hit bottom, and this is going to push us further down."

As part of the federal stimulus law, states can offer an extra 20 weeks in federally funded benefits. Most states have accepted the offer, although the extended benefit is triggered by a state's unemployment rate and not all states have met the criteria to offer it.

Many unemployed Pennsylvanians are currently eligible for up to 72 weeks of benefits, including 13 from the stimulus law.

Legislation under consideration in the state Senate would add seven weeks of eligibility, although the state will not officially meet the criteria to offer that benefit until August. That's when the federal government is expected to certify that Pennsylvania's three-month average unemployment rate is at least 8 percent, officials said.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the Democratic-controlled House on July 7, with just one "no" vote. The Senate's majority Republicans, however, have not said whether they support the extension because of the cost to the state and local governments.

Under the extension, the federal government picks up the cost of the benefits for people laid off by private-sector employers. State and local governments foot the bill for their own ex-employees.

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