Coronavirus: What you need to know about unemployment eligibility in Pennsylvania

Coronavirus: What you need to know about unemployment eligibility in Pennsylvania
(WPXI/Cox Media Group)

PITTSBURGH — More than 1.3 millions Pennsylvanians have been laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of those people have reported problems with the state’s system, like waiting for information that’s been requested or not being able to access it at all.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor has implemented new federal unemployment compensation benefits in response to the volume of people that are currently unemploymed.

Here’s what we know about unemployment eligibility in Pennsylvania:

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If you’re unemployed

Under the $2 trillion federal relief package passed last month, workers will be paid an additional $600 per week.

The federal benefits are in addition to Pennsylvania’s regular unemployment benefits and that $600 will be paid separately.

If you’re self-employed

Those who are self-employed or independent contractors are eligible for benefits under the federal program, but can’t yet apply online because the U.S. Department of Labor requires Pandemic Unemployment Assistance be tracked separately from regular Unemployment Compensation.

Because of that, Pennsylvania is building a new online platform for those people and will announce when it’s up and running.

People can start filing their Weekly PUA payments toward the end of the week. The system will be going live this week.

If you are having issues and questions you can email UCpua@pa.gov

If you get an ineligibility message, try filing again.

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

Usually self-employed and seasonal workers are ineligible for unemployment but under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program workers will qualify. The delay comes because the federal Department of Labor is requiring these claims to be tracked separately than regular claims.

“We’re working with a contractor to get the program up and running,” said Dept. of Labor and Industry, Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy director Susan Dickinson. “We want people to be able to file their claims within two weeks.”

For more information on different scenarios and eligibility, CLICK HERE.

Dickinson said they expect the biweekly filing to be up a couple weeks after, adding those people should not apply on the regular unemployment website. Their claim will be denied and clog the system which 1.3 million people have applied for.

“Please do not file a regular claim right now because it’s going to be a completely separate application,” she said.

If you’re looking to get that extra $600 a week, which is available to both types of unemployment claims; regular and PUA. Dickinson said it will come later.

“Just file normally, you’re going to get paid normally with your regular benefits then you will receive your FPUC benefits about one week later,” she said.

The Dept. of Labor said it is seeing record numbers of people applying. The advice is to check the Pennsylvania PUA website for the answer to your question and if you still need help be patient.

The department said Monday and Tuesdays are their busiest days and there have been more than 25,000 calls and emails a day. The agency is adding staff to help with demand.

But how long should you be waiting for a PIN? 21 days according to state officials

Officials said benefits will be back dated to when people initially were unemployed.

At this time, Department of Labor and Industry says that since March 15, the department has made over 11.4 million payments to claimants for a total of more than $5.34 billion in benefits – nearly $3.9 billion from regular UC and over $1.44 billion from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program (extra $600 per week).

Can you explain why people are getting confirmation email when they apply for UC claims but then when they follow up after waiting – they don’t have record of the person? One viewer said he got an email, saying something must be wrong in application but he couldn’t find anything wrong and its been 35 days.

Once again, please note that L&I’s Office of Communications cannot provide any advice or comment on individual or specific unemployment claims. We recommend that the individual pass on the confirmation email to uchelp@pa.gov so that our staff can track down the specific issues with the claim and reach out to the claimant with a resolution. Also, we are in the process of contacting all individuals with claims issues, as we address a historic volume of claims.

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

Another viewer said “I reopened my claim online on April 9th. As of today, the website says my claim is still inactive. When will my claim become active?"

Anyone receiving an online message that their claim status is inactive should try logging in to file their biweekly claims each day until the system accepts their login. They will know their login has been accepted when the system offers their recent claim weeks for filing. There is no need to try more than once per day. People receiving the inactive messages will not be penalized for these issues.

We’ve heard from people who filed a UC claim, got approved, got a pin but not getting their money on their reliacard. One person said they filed 3 biweekly claims but got no letter about how much they will receive and not getting money deposited. Is there an issue with disbursing money and what should people do?

It’s important to note that L&I’s Office of Communications cannot provide any advice or comment on individual or specific unemployment claims. We can only provide information, when appropriate, in general terms. “Individuals who have a PIN number can check the status of their claims online here: https://www.paclaims.pa.gov/ucen/LoginClaimStatus.asp.”

Can you give an update on the extra $600 people are supposed to get -- You mentioned before it would be filed later in the week, is that the case still? Also, what should be do if they are getting the regular UC payment but haven’t gotten the $600?

Individuals will receive the $600 FPUC for all weeks they receive regular unemployment, beginning the week that ends on April 4, 2020, and all eligible weeks through July 25, 2020. Approved UC claimants should receive the FPUC payments approximately one week after regular UC benefits are paid. It is important to note that individuals receiving biweekly UC benefits will receive the additional FPUC payments on a biweekly basis as well.

Individuals who will soon begin receiving benefits payments through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) once it is fully operational. Once those individuals begin receiving their PUA payments, they will also automatically receive the extra $600 FPUC payments the following week. The FPUC payments will be made retroactively for any backdated weeks of benefits for weeks ending April 4, 2020 and later.

More information on the CARES Act is available at www.uc.pa.gov/COVID-19/CARES-Act.

For more information on the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, please visit our FAQ’s https://www.uc.pa.gov/COVID-19/CARES-Act/Pages/FPUC-FAQs.aspx

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

Some people have reached out saying it’s been more than a month since they applied for their UC benefits and have yet to hear on their claim. Some have gotten a response saying “they have no record of me filing.” What type of issue would cause claimants to receive this message? Would it be likely that people filed something wrong to get a message of no record?

There are typically two types of issues that could result in claims errors. First, if a claimant filed using the wrong Social Security Number, Date of Birth, or incorrect First and Last Name, the claimant’s identity would not be able to be verified by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Second, if a claimant reported the same address for their home and business, the system would flag the claimant as self-employed, thereby causing a claims error. If you’ve filed a claim and there is an issue, the UC adjudication process will begin.

Additionally, L&I is identifying any PIN numbers that have yet to be sent for certain claims. We are working as quickly as possible to make those determinations and issue any overdue PIN numbers.

What is the best action people should take to get in contact?

The quickest way to get a response from UC staff is to email at uchelp@pa.gov and provide your full name (as it appears on your claim, including any suffix used) and the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Individuals who do not have computer access or need a translator should call 1-888-313-7284. TTY services for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing are 888-334-4046. Videophone services for ASL users is available Wednesdays from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM at 717-704-8474 (ASL is the only means of communication provided at this number).

There are currently six UC call centers - Altoona, Scranton, Erie, Indiana, Duquesne and Harrisburg – according to the Department website:

UC Service Centers

If you have filed an application for UC benefits within the last year, and have a specific question about your claim or your eligibility, call the UC service center:

UC Service Center Statewide

Toll-Free Number 888-313-7284

TTY Services for Deaf and

Hard-of-Hearing Toll-Free 888-334-4046

Videophone Service for ASL Users-

Wednesdays, noon-4 p.m.

*Sign language is the ONLY means of communication provided at this number. 717-704-8474

UC Service Center Fax Numbers

Altoona 814-941-6801

Scranton 570-562-4385

Erie 814-871-4863

Indiana 724-599-1068

Duquesne 412-267-1475

Harrisburg 717-214-5463

If you filed before the stay-at-home order

Applications continue to be processed as quickly as possible. Filing claims online at www.uc.pa.gov is the quickest and easiest way to submit an application for UC benefits. We strongly urge any worker impacted by COVID-19 to file online.

The waiting week, as well as the work search and registration requirements, have been temporarily suspended to expedite claims filings.

Part of the requirement to receive UC in Pennsylvania is that you look for work each week. In order to help expedite the processing of claims, that requirement was suspended as well.

If you can’t get through

Due to the very large volume of claims being filed and questions from claimants, we are urging all claimants to file online at www.uc.pa.gov. The answers to many COVID-19 UC questions are available in an employee/employer FAQ document. If you’re not seeing the answer you need in the FAQ, please email your question to uchelp@pa.gov.

If you are furloughed, then ultimately laid off

If an individual has otherwise met the eligibility requirements for unemployment compensation, he or she can collect benefits for a maximum amount of 26 weeks. At this time, we are not able to file time extensions for benefits. We will continue to review the federal guidelines as this situation continues to evolve.

If you’d just gotten a new job, but couldn’t start yet

This is a valid separation and you should be eligible to apply for UC benefits.

Extended Benefits program

If your regular benefits have run out, you may qualify for 13 additional weeks of payments. Extended Benefits are unemployment benefits paid to workers when the state’s unemployment rate reaches a certain level determined by law.

Extended Benefits payments will begin the week ending July 4, 2020.

You may be eligible for EB if:

  • You are totally or partially unemployed;
  • You have exhausted your regular state benefits on your most recent UC claim, or your most recent UC benefit year has ended; and
  • You have received the maximum amount of PEUC that you were eligible to receive.

Additional eligibility information is available here

These payments are 50% of the amount of regular unemployment amount.

If your benefits have run out and you can’t get an extension

After your benefit year ends (one year after you opened the claim) you can re-apply. However, if you have not worked in that entire year, you will not be eligible to apply for UC benefits.

Jobs available at Pennsylvania’s unemployment call centers