In this holiday season, it seems particularly Grinchy that Pennsylvania is about to lay off more than 500 state workers - people whose mission is, of all things, helping out-of-work Pennsylvanians.
Ironic, and cynically so.
Three of the state's seven unemployment compensation service centers are scheduled to close Dec. 19 and other Department of Labor and Industry employees whose work supports the unemployment centers are also losing their jobs. Particularly hard hit is the eastern half of the state, with the closures of the Allentown, Altoona, and Lancaster centers. (The Philadelphia call center closed in 2012.)
The reason for the layoffs?
Not because the service centers are overstaffed, or that Pennsylvania is overemployed. The centers have already been subject to austerity measures, reducing the number of days those seeking unemployment can call to just three days a week - creating delays for many.
And it's not that many more Pennsylvanians have jobs: Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in October - above the national average of 4.6 percent.
The reasons for the closings and layoffs are money and politics - specifically $57.5 million of funding that all parties knew was set to expire at the end of the year. On Oct. 19, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill, by a bipartisan majority of 173 to 13, that would have extended funding for the system through 2017. But in November, the Pennsylvania Senate majority decided to leave Harrisburg for the year without taking up the bill.
Stink, stank, stunk.
State Sen. Scott Wagner (R., York) - known for waste management, obstruction, and an ambition to be governor - was quoted in the York Dispatch as saying, "I dug my foot in . . . they didn't get the job done. . . . Let them close down."
Blame the worker.
And when that doesn't work, some try to lay blame at the feet of Gov. Wolf. But, as Budget Secretary Randy Albright explains, it is the responsibility of the House and Senate to authorize budgetary spending. Albright says, "We have no means available with the enacted budget in place. We only have the authority to expend the revenues and available funding that were provided to us from the General Assembly."
Regardless of where we've been, there are several ways out of this mess of our own making.
One, in the new session I will be supporting legislation introduced by state Rep. Peter Schweyer (D., Lehigh) to restore funding for the call centers. Unfortunately, however, as the legislative calendar stands now, the earliest the General Assembly could pass this legislation is late January, well over a month after the layoffs are set to occur.
More immediately, the governor on his own - or by petition of the General Assembly - could call us back to Harrisburg early, and swear us in for a special session of the legislature to complete the work we owed Pennsylvania this year.
Wagner says Labor and Industry "didn't get the job done." In reality, it was the state Senate that didn't get the job done.
We are elected to serve. Let's get back to Harrisburg and do our jobs - so that hard-working Pennsylvanians can keep theirs this holiday season.
State Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Montgomery) represents the 153rd District. firstname.lastname@example.org