Pittsburghers continue to wait for unemployment benefits they’re entitled to

PITTSBURGH — Nearly 15 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Pennsylvanians are still struggling to get unemployment benefits.

State leaders say they received 6 million unemployment claims in a 12-month period, an overwhelming amount they simply weren’t prepared for or in a position to handle.

But even as weekly claims continue to drop, we continue to hear from people still waiting for money they’re owed.

“I can’t expect much from the government,” said Tyler Condron, who filed for unemployment last fall.

Condron ran Factory Sports Training in New Kensington, and said the business was on pace to have its best year before the pandemic hit.

Membership sank by 85% before he was forced to close the gym for good.

Condron said he waited six months from when he first filed for unemployment in early November until he began receiving benefits.

“Thank God for my family and thank God for my girlfriend, because if I was a single guy and I didn’t have family or anything like that I would be on the streets,” said Condron, who estimates he’s still owed more than $8,000.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry either didn’t respond or denied multiple requests for a one-on-one interview with acting secretary Jennifer Berrier.

During a recent news conference, Berrier said the department has hired more than 200 additional workers to help process claims and handle complaints.

“We’re still digging ourselves out of a tsunami of claims we received during this pandemic that was unforeseen and frankly, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said.

On June 8, the state will launch its new unemployment compensation system, replacing the current system that’s been in place for more than 40 years.

Once up and running, it’s expected to cut down on wait times and improve communications.

“That means the people that are waiting on someone to review their claims will start hearing back from us faster and getting their payments more swiftly,” Berrier said during the news conference.

While promising for people still receiving benefits, the change offers little comfort to Condron, who is unsure if he will see the benefits he’s owed.

“People have lost everything, their businesses, their jobs. For them to come out now and say we’re going to fix this now, it’s a little too late.”