Pennsylvania officials respond to delay in unemployment benefits

“It’s a complete nightmare,” said a Finleyville woman. “I’m going on three weeks Wednesday without any kind of payment or anything.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has made more than $33.1 billion in unemployment program payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three of these programs are part of the federal CARES Act, which expired at the end of 2020. L&I urged the federal government beginning in November to extend the CARES Act as soon as possible to prevent gaps or delays in unemployment program benefits to claimants. The federal government did not complete the extension until Dec. 27, and L&I has been delayed in restarting payments for the three federal programs by the federal Department of Labor, which did not issue all of the guidance needed to ensure states are following the federal law when making payments for the federal programs until Jan. 11. L&I has prioritized restarting payments for these programs and is announcing the dates for claimants to begin filing again as soon as necessary reprogramming is complete. L&I is doing everything possible to minimize delays while working under the constraints created by the federal government.

The statuses of each active unemployment program is as follows:

STATE PERMANENT PROGRAMS:

Unemployment Compensation (UC)

  • L&I has made approximately $6.6 billion in UC payments since March 15 (the start of the pandemic).
  • Unemployment Compensation is a state program that provides up to 26 weeks of payments to eligible claimants who are able and available to work but have lost their jobs for qualifying reasons. Claimants who exhaust their 26 weeks of payments roll over to the PEUC program, and then the EB program. The program is unaffected by the federal coronavirus relief bill.
  • A small percentage of the claimants who filed for UC on Jan. 1 were affected by a glitch that caused them to not receive their payment on time. L&I rectified the issue and reissued the payments to claimants a few days later. L&I apologizes for the inconvenience caused by the delayed payment and has worked to prevent the issue from recurring. No other payment issues have been detected for UC claimants since the Jan. 1 issue.

Extended Benefits (EB)

  • L&I has made approximately $230.6 million in EB payments since March 15.
  • EB provides claimants who have exhausted their maximum number of UC and PEUC claim weeks with additional claim weeks. The number of claim weeks provided to a claimant varies depending on the claimant’s personal situation. EB is a state program that is triggered on when the unemployment rate reaches a certain threshold.
  • Because EB is a state program, it was unaffected by the expiration and extension of the federal coronavirus relief bill. Some claimants who filed EB claims on Jan. 10 did not receive their payments on time due to a programmatic glitch. The issue was identified and remedied on Jan. 16 and payments to the affected claimants were reissued on Jan. 17. L&I apologizes to these claimants for the inconvenience of the delayed payments. Other EB claimants have been receiving payments as normal.

TEMPORARY FEDERAL UNEMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS:

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

  • L&I has made approximately $1.1 billion in PEUC payments since March 15.
  • PEUC provides UC claimants with a 13-week extension on their claim, with an additional 11 weeks added through the coronavirus relief bill extension, bringing the total to 24 weeks. After a claimant exhausts PEUC, they become eligible for additional weeks through the EB program. PEUC initially expired the claim week ending Dec. 26 and an extension was signed Dec. 27.
  • L&I could not begin paying the claim weeks in the PEUC extension until the federal Department of Labor provided guidance on how the federal program should be enacted by states. L&I began working on upgrading its computer system to accommodate changes made by the coronavirus relief bill extension and has completed upgrades to allow claimants who had weeks remaining on their 13 allotted weeks to begin filing for these claim weeks on Jan. 15. L&I will make an announcement when the additional 11 weeks have been added to claimants’ accounts and filing for these weeks begins.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

  • L&I has made approximately $7.1 billion in PUA payments since March 15.
  • PUA is a special unemployment program created by the federal coronavirus relief bill to assist claimants who are not typically eligible for Unemployment Compensation, such as freelancers, gig workers, and business owners. The program expired the claim week ending Dec. 26 and an extension was signed Dec. 27. The initial coronavirus relief bill provided PUA claimants 39 claim weeks and the extension provided an additional 11 weeks (50 weeks total).
  • Numerous changes, such as new identity and employment verification requirements, were added to the program in the extension by the federal government. The federal Department of Labor did not provide L&I with the necessary guidance for the changes to the PUA program until Jan. 11. L&I is working to complete reprogramming of the PUA system to accommodate these changes and has turned off claimants’ ability to file for weeks after the expiration of the original program. The ability to file for claim weeks after Dec. 26 will be added when the reprogramming is complete, and L&I will make an announcement as soon as this date is determined. Some claimants have reported seeing what they believe are errors in their PUA system dashboard, but this is due to the reprogramming and the correct amounts will be populated into claimants’ dashboards when the system is ready to accept the new claims.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)

  • L&I has made approximately $16.2 billion in FPUC payments since March 15.
  • FPUC provides an additional $300 to claimants each week they receive at least $1 in benefits from the UC, EB, PEUC or PUA programs. This payment is on top of the other program’s payment. The program previously provided $600 in additional weekly compensation but was initially eliminated when the federal government failed to extend it in summer, and then cut in half to $300 and reinstated when the federal government agreed on the coronavirus relief bill extension.
  • L&I began issuing payments on Jan. 8 after receiving the necessary guidance from the federal Department of Labor. The timing of the payments’ arrival varies based on when claimants file the claims for their other unemployment benefits and the method the claimant chose to receive their payment (checks require mailing time, financial institutions may cause delays with direct deposits, etc.), with the first claimants receiving their payments for FPUC on Jan. 12.

Claimants who have questions about their individual claim should email uchelp@pa.gov.

Source: Pennsylvania officials respond to delay in unemployment benefits