Bizzarro, Harkins push for funding to reopen Pa. unemployment of - Erie News Now | WICU & WSEE in Erie, PA

Bizzarro, Harkins push for funding to reopen Pa. unemployment offices

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ERIE, Pa. -

A difference of $57.5 million in state funding was all it took to close three Pennsylvania unemployment compensation offices in Dec. 2016. More than 500 jobs were lost, many of them operators who processed unemployment claims for those like Roger Shaw, of Erie.

"It's crucial," said Shaw. "It pays the mortgage, pays your car payments, pays for gas, all that stuff."

Shaw faces seasonal unemployment claims as a Millcreek Twp. School District school bus driver. He has spent over six weeks calling state offices trying to get just one week's pay from late December.

"I've called them literally 600 or 700 times in a three-week period," said Shaw, showing call logs to state agencies.

But now, after months of dead-end phone calls and hours of waiting in line, perhaps some help from Harrisburg.

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-3, Millcreek Twp.) and fellow Democrat Pat Harkins (D-1, Erie), are co-sponsoring legislation, to restore the full $57.5 million to reopen those call centers for the next year.

"I'm not so sure how long we can sustain conducting business as we are in regards to how people are receiving their unemployment benefits because some people are not receiving them," said Bizzarro during a phone interview.

The funding in HB 34 would also bring back all the furloughed jobs. It has bipartisan support in the house, but not among all of the General Assembly, Bizzarro said.

The bad news for those receiving unemployment benefits is that movement on that legislation may not happen until April until Republicans learn the results of a statewide audit on these unemployment offices.

"It's a big problem statewide and it's got to be addressed sooner rather than later," said Bizzarro.

One month later, and the signs are still on the door of Erie's state labor office, which say "in-person unemployment compensation services are not available" and "No U.C. claimants beyond this point." Those signs reflect Shaw's frustration, who is now concerned about what happens when his bus stops during summer vacation.

"(There is) no resolve," said Shaw, after fighting over six weeks for his one week of benefits, which equates between $300-400, he estimated.

The state budget process could also slow down progress HB 34 is making in the General Assembly as committee hearings begin taking place.

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