Today I'm working on a story about unemployment benefits, specifically about whether Pennsylvania could/should make the changes to capture some extra money for its unemployment insurance fund from federal stimulus money. The changes would make it easier for more people to get unemployment insurance because it would ease eligibility standards and there are also improvements for part-time folks. So far I've talked to representatives of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business's Pennsylvania group. They are both against it. Their argument is that the $300 million the state would get from the feds would be quickly in a few years by payments to an increased number of people, which would lead to increased taxes to employers to fund the fund, which would in turn contribute to an unwelcoming business atmosphere.. A couple of states, including Louisiana, have also talked about turning away this money. Virginia has already done so.
On the other side, obviously, is the fact that people are suffering. One problem is that the workforce is different now than it was when unemployment insurance was created. That was based on the idea of a full-time job. Many people now work a series of contract projects with gaps between projects. Lots of low-wage workers don't have steady employment and so don't readily qualify for benefits.
With any luck and enough call backs, I'll have the story for tomorrow's paper. If anyone has any thoughts or experience on this, please comment. I'd like to hear from local businesses about whether they are having problems paying the tax and also from unemployed people, perhaps people who didn't qualify because they hadn't worked enough months in the past year to be eligible.