Program to help low-income families attend community college gets results

January 29, 2010

Several years ago, the Department of Public Welfare teamed up with Pennsylvania’s community colleges to create a program called KEYS.  Through KEYS, families receiving TANF cash assistance and food stamps can attend community college.  Getting a degree helps families get better jobs to sustain their families.  See below for a great video on the KEYS program featuring many families throughout Pennsylvania that have benefited from the program.

Community Legal Services is a strong supporter of KEYS and advocates for expanded employment and training programs for low-income Philadelphians.  For more information on KEYS at Community College of Philadelphia, click here.

PHRC Policy on the use of Criminal Records in Employment Decisions

January 26, 2010

Today is the last day to comment on the PHRC’s proposed policy guidelines on the use of criminal records in employment.

See here for the proposed guidance: The Disparate Impact Discrimination Implications of a Denial of Employment Based on a Criminal Record.

Also check out what YPP has to say about the guidance: The PHRC takes a hugely important step.

Comments may be submitted by email to and should include the subject line, “Comments on Proposed Policy Guidance”. Comments can also be mailed to the address below. Comments submitted by fax will not be accepted.

Comments on Proposed Policy Guidance
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
Homer C. Floyd
Executive Director
301 Chestnut Street, Suite 300
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1702

The Difference Between Employers and Employees

January 25, 2010

A common situation that we see in the Employment Unit is as follows: Mr. C, a contractor, gets a job remodeling a house.  Mr. C can’t do the job alone, so he brings four of his workers on site, paying each $10/hour.  The remodeling job takes 8 weeks, with payments coming every 2 weeks.  Unfortunately, because of a dispute with the homeowner, Mr. C doesn’t get paid for the last two weeks of work.  Because Mr. C doesn’t get paid, he doesn’t pay his workers.  His workers come in to CLS for help getting their pay.

Leaving aside how much the workers are owed (generally they are owed for a lot of unpaid overtime in addition to the last 2 weeks of work), we face a fundamental question here: why should the workers get paid when Mr. C didn’t?  The first answer to that question is easy: the law says so.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as well as the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (WPCL), employees must be paid for every hour that they worked.  This is true whether Mr. C had a good week or a bad week.  This is also true if Mr. C decided to fire all of his workers because he didn’t get paid—he still owes them for the time that they worked.  Whether or not he owes them is not dependent on whether he was paid or not.

But I think there is another explanation here that doesn’t resort to the law.  There is a fundamental difference between an employer and an employee.  Mr. C is an entrepreneur—if business is booming and he can charge high prices for his work, he gets to keep the extra profit; if he can manage his time and workers effectively so as to come in under budget on projects, he gets to keep the extra profit.  The workers, on the other hand, see none of this largess when times are good.  If the business is flush and Mr. C is able to charge twice his normal rates, his workers will still make just $10/hour; if Mr. C’s workers finish a project ahead of schedule, they are only paid for the hours they worked.  If that is true, then the converse must also be true.  If times are bad or Mr. C doesn’t manage his projects well, he stands to lose money.  His workers, however, still get paid for all of the hours that they work.  And this makes sense—they shouldn’t be affected because of some dispute that Mr. C is having with the owner of the property, because Mr. C didn’t do a good job bidding the project, or because Mr. C didn’t hire enough people to do the job.

The workers, in other words, have traded the potential windfall of being an entrepreneur for the relative safety of a regular paycheck.   If only Mr. C stands to gain when times are good, only he should stand to fail when times are bad—that is his choice.  And let’s not feel too bad for Mr. C: he can go to court to recover what he is owed as well.

CLS publishes its 2009 annual report

January 20, 2010

Our 2009 annual report is now available online.   You can view annual reports from earlier years here.

Dept of Public Welfare to cut SSI benefits for 360,000 Pennsylvanians

January 20, 2010

Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare announced that it would reduce SSI benefits for 360,000 low-income Pennsylvanians.  SSI is a federal program for the severely disabled, blind, and elderly.  DPW supplements the federal SSI amount with $27.40 for an individual and $43.70 for a couple.  But starting next month, DPW intends to reduce this amount by 20% in an effort to save $23 million per year.  SSI is already only 75% of the poverty level and this year, there was no cost of living increase.

DPW is currently seeking comments on this proposal.  Interesting in making yourself heard?  Send comments to Edward J. Zogby, Bureau of Policy, Room 431, Health and Welfare Building, Harrisburg, PA 17105, or at  Comments are due by February 15, 2010.