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Study suggest ARRAct kept State residents from poverty

01.28.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Study suggest ARRAct kept State residents from poverty

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 20th- According to a recently released study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left leaning organization that conducts research and analysis on government policies and programs, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRAct) likely kept 189,000 Pennsylvania residents from falling into poverty.

Pennsylvania was one of eleven states to see a statistically significant increase in the official poverty rate from 2007 to 2008, according to the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in 2008, 1.5 million Pennsylvanians, 12 percent of the population, were living below the official poverty level.

“These are difficult economic times, but the recovery act has kept things from being much worse, as this study shows. Thousands of Pennsylvania families are getting help making ends meet despite the worst recession in decades,” said Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

The study examined the following seven provisions of the ARRAct.

• a new Making Work Pay Tax Credit of up to $400 for workers ($800 for a
couple) earning up to $95,000 (up to $190,000 for a couple);

• an expanded Child Tax Credit for lower income working families with
children;

• an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, including increased tax credit
benefits for a working family with three or more children and for married
families to lessen the marriage penalty the Earned Income Tax Credit can
otherwise impose;

• additional weeks of emergency unemployment compensation benefits (paid
after a worker’s 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits expire);

• an additional $25 per week for unemployed workers to supplement their
unemployment benefits;

• a $250 one-time payment to elderly people and people with disabilities
who receive Social Security, SSI, or veterans’ benefits; and

• an increase in food stamps benefit levels.

“Congress agreed to expand the extra unemployment benefits through February. But with unemployment likely to remain high for some time, it will need to extend them futher,” said Ms. Ward.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA’s civilian labor force falls by 3,600 during past year

01.28.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

MSA’s civilian labor force falls by 3,600 during past year

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 29th- According to labor data provided by the Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, decreasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report, which was released approximately four weeks before. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) includes Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 7.0 percent.

The unemployment rate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is 8.5 percent, decreasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,328,000 with 540,000 not working and 5,788,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 10.0 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month.

The main reason the unemployment rate fell in the region and in Pennsylvania was because of the decrease of the civilian labor force and residents that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work.

The civilian labor force in the MSA has fallen by 3,600 during the past twelve months, while the labor force in Pennsylvania has fallen by 167,000. At the same time the region has 253,100 civilians working, decreasing by 10,200 from twelve months before.

There are 15,375,000 civilians in the nation without employment. That number also does not include civilians that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work.

There are 26,400 residents in the MSA not working, increasing by 6,600 from twelve months before. That number also does not include civilians who unemployment benefits have expired and stopped looking for work.

The MSA has the fifth largest labor force in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 2,950,300 with 261,600 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA is second at 1,110,100 with 95,100 without jobs; the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force at 416,400 with 38,700 not working; and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force at 280,300 with 21,000 without employment.

Of the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA is tied with the Erie MSA for the highest unemployment rate. The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the second highest unemployment rate in the commonwealth at 9.3 percent, with the Williamsport MSA, the Reading MSA and the Johnstown MSA tied for the third highest unemployment rate.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.9 percent. The Lebanon MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 7.0 percent with the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA and the Lancaster MSA tied for the third lowest at 7.5 percent.

Lackawanna County has the lowest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.0 percent, which decreased by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report and jumped two and four-tenths percentage points from one year ago.

Lackawanna County has a labor force of 106,200, unchanged from the report before but fell by 1,400 during the past twelve months. There are 9,500 Lackawanna County residents without jobs, decreasing by 300 from the previous report but increasing by 2,400 from one year ago. That number also does not include residents that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.7 percent, which decreased by four-tenths of a percentage point from the report before and increased by a whopping two and five-tenths percentage points from twelve months ago. The labor force in Luzerne County decreased by 5,800 during the past year. Of the labor force 15,400 do not have a job, increasing by 3,800 from one year ago.

Wyoming County has a unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, increasing by two and five-tenths percentage points from one year ago. Wyoming County has a labor force of 14,300, increasing by 200 from the previous report and dropping by 200 from one year ago. There are 1,400 Wyoming County residents without jobs, increasing by 200 from the previous report and jumping by 400 from twelve months before.

Hearing held to discuss teachers retirement fund shortfalls

01.28.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Hearing held to discuss teachers retirement fund shortfalls

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 20th- According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Union, which is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s largest school employee union, new legislation touted as a solution to rising costs in the state school employee pension plans will not help and could actually increase costs to taxpayers.

“Instead of dealing responsibly with the pension spike, this legislation would actually add more administrative costs, and shift more of the burden of funding school employee pensions back to the Commonwealth. This legislation would make it even more difficult to balance the state budget over the next several years,” said James Testerman, President of the PSEA.

Legislation sponsored by State Representative Glen Grell (Republican-87th Legislative District) and State Senator Gene Yaw (Republican-23rd Legislative District), would change the current system of funding school employees pensions from local school districts to the state government.

Mr. Testerman testified before the state Senate Finance Committee on December 16th and told legislators that proposals such as House Bill 2315 would have no impact on Pennsylvania State Education Association members future employer contribution spike for the state and school districts in 2012. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which supports the legislation, acknowledged at the same hearing that future costs are “unknown” and that any savings would not occure until 2020.

“There are no easy solutions to look past such schemes and pledged PSEA’s assistance in developing a responsible plan to address the funding crisis and protect the solvency of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

Under a provision of the legislation, school districts contributions would be capped at their current property tax index and the PSEA stated the proposal would benefit wealthier districts over poorer ones, who would have to come up with a larger percentage of pension costs through local revenues.

Mr. Testermen stated over the last ten years, school employees contributed more than $7.3 million into the pension system while their employers, the state and school districts combined, paid about half as much.

“We now have to deal with the cost of two recessions, plus the impact of employer underfunding, all coming due at one time. This problem is unique to Pennsylvania. It was created by legislation and not by standard pension accounting,” added Mr. Testerman.

“Some of the solutions being discussed make for good sound bites, but won’t do anything to reduce the projected payment increase, and are actually long-term problems that will hurt our ability to attract and retain quality education professionals over the long term.”

The hearings were held to discuss the solvency of the Public School Employees Retirement System and the unfunded accrued liability rate of the pension fund expected to be more than 30 percent by 2012.

Mr. Testerman testified that lawmakers need to look past schemes that will not solve the pension crisis problem and pledged the PSEA assistance in developing a responible plan to address the funding crisis and protect the solvency of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.

“There are no easy solutions, but one thing is clear, the state and school districts must keep their promise to fully fund school employees’ pensions,” Mr. Testerman stated.

Complaint filed against CMC Hospital being investigated

01.28.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Complaint filed against CMC Hospital being investigated

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 20th- The complaint filed by the union that represents nurses at the Community Medical Center (CMC) on Mulberry Street in Scranton is under investigation a source confirmed to the newspaper.

In the previous edition of the newspaper it was reported the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, filed a Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against the CMC on October 28th, 2009 alleging the employer violated Section 8 (a), subsections (1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

The complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four Office in Philadelphia.

PASNAP is affiliated with the California Nurses Association (CNA) and represents nurses at the CMC and the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre. The union has failed to gain a successor contract agreement with Community Health Systems (CHS) which owns and operates the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. CHS is the largest owner of for-profit hospitals in the country. The previous agreement expired on August 30th and the union represents approximately 450 nurses at the medical center.

Of the three medical centers in Scranton, Moses Taylor Hospital is the only one that does not have any unionized employees. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Healthcare Pennsylvania, formerly called SEIU 1199P, represents workers including nurses at the Mercy Hospital on Jefferson Avenue.

According to a source at the NLRB, the agency will soon determine if there is merit in PASNAP’s claim CMC officials violated the NLRAct.

According to information provided on the ULP, the union alleges the employer, by its officers, agents, and representatives terminated Elizabeth Webber because of her activities on behalf of PASNAP, and because she engaged in concerned activities with other employees of the CMC for the purposes of mutual aid and protection, and in order to discourage membership in the union.