By John Finnerty
You’ve surely heard of double-dipping retired state employees. But what about triple-dippers?
Double dippers are retirees who receive a government pension and return to their jobs part-time. Triple dippers are those who also collect unemployment checks after they reach the limit of 95 days per year they can work without affecting their pension payments.
Triple-dipping is allowed under a little-known loophole in the state unemployment compensation law. But a bill that has passed both the House and Senate would close the loophole.
State records show one-third of double-dipping state retirees collect unemployment when they complete their temporary return to the workforce.
State Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, said the result has been a drain of $2.77 million on the state unemployment fund over the three-year period ending last December. The cost of triple-dipping unemployment payments in 2010 alone was $942,645.
A review of government data showed that many triple-dippers work where retirees would likely best know about the unemployment loophole — the Department of Labor and Industry.
The triple-dipper issue went largely unnoticed until that agency began bringing back hundreds of retirees to help deal with jobless claims during the last recession, said Dan Egan, a spokesman in the state Office of Administration.
In 2010, Egan said, the Department of Labor and Industry accounted for 200 of the 600 pensioned retirees working for the state. The Department of Public Welfare also employed about 200 pensioned retirees, with the remaining 200 spread across other state agencies, he said.
Double-dipping is allowed because it gives state agencies the ability to bring back retirees to fill short-term needs in times of emergency, Egan said. “It is meant to give agencies operational flexibility,” he said. “The unemployment compensation loophole is casting a negative light on the whole program.”
Egan wasn’t sure why more double-dipping retirees don’t file for unemployment. It could be many of them are unaware of the loophole. Or some may choose not do accept the benefit because they think it’s inappropriate.
State Rep. C. Adam Harris, R-Juniata County, informed his legislative colleagues he was “astonished” to learn of the triple-dipping. He authored the bill to close the loophole.
“We’ve made great strides in the past two years to reform our unemployment compensation system,” Gordner said. “And we must continue to ensure that the system is strong to provide benefits to those who truly qualify.”
John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cnhipa.