Still Waiting on Unemployment? Here’s Why & What You Can Do
HARRISBURG – Over 1.8 million Pennsylvania workers filed for unemployment benefits due to COVID-related layoffs.
Three-quarters of the applicants who are eligible and have filed their bi-weekly claims are receiving payments. “The remaining applicants were either not eligible for UC payments, did not file biweekly claims, or had filing issues that will require additional assistance from UC staff,” says Jerry Oleksiak, Pennsylvania Secretary of Department of Labor and Industry.
Oleksiak acknowledges that the volume of claims is putting a massive strain on the system. Since March 15th, 1,816,576 PA residents filed for unemployment, an average of 259,510 filings per week and 37,072 per day. In all of 2019, the department paid about $1.8 billion in unemployment benefits. They have made $5.3 billion in payments just between March 15 and May 2 this year.
“There are no backlogs anymore when it comes to general claims processing. At this point, if anyone is wondering where their payment is or why they haven’t heard anything, it’s something specific to that claim,” said Susan Dickinson, Director of Unemployment Compensation for the Department.
In a typical case, when an unemployment claim is filed, the claim is sent to the employer for response. If there are issues, additional information is sought. “Before COVID, it took 4 to 6 weeks to address those issue,” Dickinson says. The public health crisis is extending that time – due to the massive numbers and also because, with so many businesses shut down, it is difficult to reach employers.
If applicants “have not received a PIN or don’t get one within a week, they are in inquiry,” says Dickinson, meaning the department is waiting for responses and information from either or both the employer and employee to address any issues with the claim. She advises applicants in that situation to contact the department and to request a new PIN.
In any event, she said, applicants should continue filing their bi-weekly claim certifications. “Once resolution is achieved, the director said, “back payments will be made.”
The Secretary and the Director acknowledge the difficulty of contacting the department. Since March, the department has expanded its capacity to process claims by increasing staff. The state transferred 500 employees from other agencies to the department to handle unemployment claims. Dozens of retirees have been brought back to work, and they are hiring 250 new intake agents.
The department has also expanded the days and hours for its help line, making it available eight hours a day, five days a week.
Asked about expanding the hours for the telephone lines, Dickinson said it is a “fine line” because the people answering the help line are also those responsible for processing the callers’ applications.
Since mid-March, the department has responded to 240,000 emails, handled 120,000 phone calls, had about 70,000 online chat sessions, and the virtual assistant has handled over 145,000 calls. “We are doing all we can to respond all Pennsylvanians as if they are our family,” said Oleksiak.
Applicants with questions can contact the state Unemployment Compensation help line at 888-313-7284, Monday through Friday, 8 am - 4 pm. The help line is currently fielding around 25,000 calls every week. The best days to call are Thursdays and Fridays. There is also an online live chat available daily on the department website from 7 am to 6 pm, and an artificial intelligence help line is available 24/7 at 877-978-1295.