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  • In December 2010, the U.S. Congress authorized the extension of federal benefits. However, many states, including Pennsylvania, were warned they would have to tweak their legislation to qualify for these benefits. The previous legislation linked eligibility of workers for extended benefits to the unemployment rate in the last two years. For Pennsylvania to qualify for extended benefits under the current program the Pennsylvania congress needed to modify the criteria to include the last three years in the benchmark deciding which workers received extended benefits and which did not qualify.

    The Extended Benefits Program

    The Extended Benefits program is designed to help states with especially high unemployment rates and assist workers who do not find a job after their unemployment benefits have ended. However, the eligibility for this program depends on the unemployment rate worsening. If the unemployment rate remains the same or improves, however slightly, eligibility is jeopardized. That is why the Pennsylvania Congress needed to change the rules to an alternative eligibility criteria that looks at the last three years instead of the last two. Under this criteria Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate record, still allows Pennsylvania to qualify for benefits.

    However, this change in the state unemployment law did not come without a fight. The republican party were remiss to allowing a modification that would increase the amount of money used by unemployed workers in benefits. Negotiations have been going on for weeks to find a middle ground. The compromise involved reducing the benefits provided to certain high-earning workers by reducing the maximum weekly benefit amount offered to workers. Now the maximum benefit rate in 2012 will  be $573 which will bring millions of dollars in savings. There were worse suggestions by the Republican party. One of these suggestions was that the formula used to calculate state unemployment benefits were slightly modified to reduce the expenditure in wages by $463 million.

    This twelfth hour decision help over 45,000 unemployed workers lose their benefits. Pennsylvania is only one of the 26 states that have modified their legislation to allow for the extended benefits program to apply.Yet most of the other states accepted the decision without controversy. However, some states such as South Carolina and Pennsylvania only agreed to modify the rules in the twelfth hour and with onerous grants to expenditure cutting programs.

    On June 11, residents in 2009 the state of Pennsylvania lost  the right to receive the extended benefits program, which provides 10 to 20 weeks of benefits. Republicans used the imminent cancellation of payments for workers on extended benefits to score points in their own effort to reduce the cost of unemployment benefits for the states.

    Finding work in our current economy is far from a certain thing, especially in Pennsylvania with its 7.5 percent unemployment rate and jobs migrating to regions and countries with lower salaries and more accommodating tax codes. For this reason unemployed workers need as much unemployment benefits as possible to help them find work. Currently the maximum amount of benefits a worker can get on state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks. After 26 weeks all state unemployment benefits expire.

    Federal Unemployment Benefits

    However, up until January, 31, 2012, the federal unemployment benefits first launched by President Bush in 2008 and extended in February 2010 by President Obama until the week of 25th to 31st, December 2011, continue to provide financial assistance to Pennsylvania workers. Federal assistance includes the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Extended Benefits program. Together these two programs provide a maximum of 73 weeks, 53 weeks in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and  20 weeks with the Extended Benefits program. The Emergency Unemployment Program in Pennsylvania is divided into four tiers. The first tier has 20 weeks, the second 14 weeks, the third 13 weeks and the fourth 6 weeks. The deadline for applying for any of the tiers is the same, the 31st of December 2011.

    This brings the total amount of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, if you include state unemployment insurance and both federal programs. Is this all an unemployed worker can hope to receive in unemployment benefits? In most cases the answer is yes. However, if you worked for an employer who was forced to lay you off because of competition from a foreign product or service, you may be able to apply for trade readjustment allowances from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. This program provides financial assistance, free training and even relocation to an are with a lower unemployment rate for workers who have been affected by foreign imports.

    Payments under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program are funded by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, but are managed by each state individually. If you think you may qualify for this program, you can apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and request assistance. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program can offer help to workers even after their unemployment benefits have expired.

    So, which should you choose: federal emergency unemployment compensation and extended benefits payments or the trade readjustment allowances? It depends. In some cases trade readjustment allowances provide longer and more generous payments and benefits, while in other cases the fixed payments and well-understood methods used to calculate and manage emergency unemployment compensation program provide a better deal for workers. Contact your local unemployment office and request information on the best option for you.

    The State of Pennsylvania is taking advantage of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Fund Act of 2009 to stimulate employers into hiring members of two of the most vulnerable sectors of our workforce as part of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program. Whether you are an employer, an employee or a self-employed worker thinking of expanding your business by employing workers this information can be of great value to you. This article will provide information on the type of business that can benefit from this tax incentive, what this tax incentive means for your business and how you can apply for it.

    Which Business Types Qualify for These Credits

    This is kind of a trick question, because nearly all businesses qualify for this tax credit regardless of their size, the number of workers they plan to hire and whom the business decides to hire. However, if the business hires a worker in a target demographic, such as Unemployed veterans, felons and disconnected youth, it might be able to claim twice (once for each tax credit) for the same employee.

    The only exceptions are:

    – Businesses already collecting financial assistance for a On-The-Job training program cannot apply for this tax credit until the program ends and regular wages are paid to the employee. The good news about this program is that it requires very little paperwork and therefore provides high returns for a small investment of time and resources.

    – Not-for-profit businesses.

    – Businesses employing relatives. There is another reason not to have family members as employees .

    – Workers you rehire are not eligible for the federal tax credit either. The program does not want businesses to fire workers just to reemploy them under the program. The ideas is to generate new jobs by providing savings to businesses, not to create loopholes to subsidize businesses.

    Work Opportunity Tax Credit

    The Work Opportunity Tax Credit program was launched by the Small Business Job Protection Act in 1996 and was extended by the Small Business and Work Opportunity Act of 2007. The American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 added two extra categories to the program to target specially vulnerable sectors of the workforce. To receive the tax credit a business must fill in the IRS Form 8850 within 28 days of the new employer starting work. The business must also fill in the ETA 9061—a form providing details on the Individual’s Characteristics—and attach it to the ETA 9061 Form.

    You can download the necessary forms and request more information from this link to the Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Department.

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