Pa. officials warn of scams targeting unemployment benefit recipients during coronavirus pandemic

Scammers are getting away with using Social Security numbers and other identifying information belonging to identity theft victims to commit unemployment compensation fraud, officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry warn.

“Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania is not seeing a large increase in unemployment scams since COVID-19 mitigation efforts began,” Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said. “We are working with our partner agencies to keep a close eye on the situation.”

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State’s new unemployment claims continue to drop as restrictions ease

HARRISBURG – The number of people filing unemployment claims in the week ending May 17 dropped below 62,000 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic prompted the state to close nonessential businesses statewide.

State Labor and Industry data shows the number of claims has dropped to  61,864 in the period.

That’s fewer new claims in the entire week than the state had each day in the initial period after the shutdown’s impact rippled across the state.

 

On March 20, 90,000 people filed claims for unemployment. In one week in late March, the number of new claims topped 400,000.

The drop in new claims comes as the state has begun relaxing those restrictions across much of the state.

In a press call with reporters on Monday, Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said the number of claims, though declining, are still significant. In the weeks ending May 10, the number of claims was 65,000.

Oleksiak said the number of recent claims is “a tremendously high number, given that the state had been working with before the pandemic mitigation efforts went into effect.”

 

The state has received close to 1.9 million initial claims through the traditional unemployment program and another 266,000 claims for assistance through the stimulus-funded program to provide benefits to self-employed people and independent contractors, he said.

About 76% of the people who filed initial claims were approved, said Susan Dickinson, director of the state Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy.

The remaining 24% include both people whose claims are pending and those who may be ineligible, she said.

Pennsylvania has paid out $8.8 billion in benefits to unemployed people, Oleksiak said. That includes both the normal state benefit and the additional $600 a week provided by the federal stimulus funding.

Dickinson said that the state over the weekend also launched a new program that will provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to jobless workers who have exhausted the 26 weeks of benefits normally provided by the state’s unemployment compensation program.

Those extra weeks will be available to unemployed people in Pennsylvania through the rest of 2020.

Department of Labor & Industry: Pennsylvania launches program for people who exhaust their unemployment compensation benefits.

ext of May 17 media advisory.

Provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits.

More than $7.9 billion in total unemployment benefits paid since mid-March.

Harrisburg, PA – Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak today announced the launch of Pennsylvania’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program to provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to people who exhaust their regular unemployment compensation (UC).

PEUC is included in the new federal unemployment compensation benefits provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Pennsylvania has implemented all programs under the new CARES Act and paid out nearly $7.4 billion in total unemployment benefits since mid-March.

Important information about the extended benefits program follows and has also been emailed or mailed via the United States Postal Service to all individuals who potentially qualify for PEUC.

Eligibility

You are eligible for PEUC if you:

• Are unemployed between March 29 through December 26, 2020;
• Have exhausted your regular state or federal benefits with week ending July 6, 2019 or later;
• Are currently not eligible for state or federal unemployment benefits; and
• Are able and available to work and actively seeking work, except for COVID-19-related reasons including illness, quarantine, or “stay at home” orders.

How to Receive PEUC

• If you have an open UC claim but exhausted all of your benefits, the 13 additional weeks will automatically be added to your existing claim. Log in this week to file biweekly claims for prior weeks, back through the week ending April 4 (if applicable).
• If your benefit year has expired then you must submit an application online.
• If you don’t have access to computers or the internet, you can have a loved one or friend print the paper application for you to complete and submit via mail. We are also in the process of mailing paper copies of the application to individuals who might need it.
• Biweekly claims and payments work the same way as for regular UC benefits.

PEUC Weekly Benefit Amount:

• Your PEUC weekly benefit amount is the same as your regular UC weekly benefit rate.
• Your weekly benefit rate is based on your reported earnings during the base year (the first four of the last five completed quarters). You must also have over 18 credit weeks (weeks during which you earned $116 or more) in your base year to be eligible for UC.

Extra $600 on PEUC:

• You will receive an additional $600 per week from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. Anyone collecting any type of UC, including PEUC, will receive the extra $600 per week in addition to your weekly benefits as calculated.
• FPUC payments began the week ending April 4, 2020 and will end July 25, 2020. These payments will be backdated for eligible individuals and paid in one lump sum.
• You will receive the extra $600 FPUC payments the week after your PEUC payments.

Pennsylvania’s UC Payments

Since March 15, the department has made 15.7 million payments to claimants totaling nearly $7.9 billion in benefits:

• $4.8 billion from regular UC
• $2.85 billion from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program (extra $600 per week)
• $290 million from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program since May 7

Regular UC claim statistics are available here and the breakdown of that data by industry and county is here. PUA claim statistics are available here.

Visit the commonwealth’s Responding to COVID-19 guide for the latest guidance and resources for Pennsylvanians or the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s dedicated coronavirus webpage for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19.

Media contact: Penny Ickes, dlipress@pa.gov

Your View: Finding Pennsylvania jobs in a post-coronavirus world

Elizabeth Dodson was working toward her customer service certification from the Pennsylvania CareerLink Lehigh Valley when the coronavirus hit; Gov. Wolf issued his first stay-at-home order as she was scheduling her first job interviews.

Happily, Dodson landed a job anyway, starting April 6 as an inventory control specialist at McKesson Medical-Surgical in Bethlehem and is now earning a family-sustaining wage.

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PA officials looking at securing federal loan to bolster state Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.

Pennsylvania is looking to obtain a federal loan to help bolster the UC Trust Fund now facing unprecedented jobless claims due resulting from job layoffs due to the pandemic, said Jerry Oleksiak, secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry, on Monday in a conference call with reporters.

It’s a far cry from the UC Trust Fund’s fiscal situation before the pandemic, the secretary said. The fund was on track to become solvent this summer having completed the repayment of Pennsylvania’s UC bond debt last Jan. 1, he added.

“The trust fund will be impacted,” said Oleksiak referring to a wave of UC payments to claimants since mid-March when Pennsylvania shut down all but “essential” business activity due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Since March 15, Labor and Industry has made nearly 9 million payments to claimants to cover nearly $4 billion in jobless benefits from the regular state UC program.

The UC Trust Fund is considered solvent when its level reaches two and a half times (or 250 percent) the average annual benefit payout over the last three years.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced last January that Pennsylvania had repaid its UC bond debt as of Jan. 1. A 2012 state law provided for refinancing of Pennsylvania’s federal UC loans through the sale of bonds to get a lower interest rate.

Under federal law, states are required to pay UC benefits promptly as provided for under their own laws. States can obtain loans through the federal Unemployment Trust Fund to meet their obligations if their own reserves are insufficient to meet obligations.

Oleksiak is scheduled to testify Tuesday at a joint hearing of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee and Senate Communications and Technology Committee on the impact of COVID-19 on the UC system. The hearing will focus on delays in processing claims and problems with the UC computer system, said senators.

Department of Aging: Pennsylvania receives $34 million to provide essential services to older adults

Harrisburg, PA — As part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 emergency, Pennsylvania has received $34 million to support services authorized by the Older Americans Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. These services include home-delivered meals; in-home care services; respite care and other support to families and caregivers; and information and referral services.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a total of $955 million for states in grants from the Administration for Community Living (ACL). These funds help to meet the increasing needs of older adults and people with disabilities, during this pandemic, so that they can remain safe, independent and healthy.

“This new funding will help the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) support older adults,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “These funds will go directly toward helping provide support services on the front lines of this crisis such as delivering meals, advocating for older adults in residential facilities and providing other essential services, such as protective services.”

“Since this crisis began in Pennsylvania, we’ve seen the need for services like meal delivery increase as senior centers and adult day centers had to close temporarily. This increase in demand and change in service delivery have increased costs to the AAAs and their service providers,” said Sec. Torres. “This support from HHS is most welcome and needed.”

CARES Act funding for Pennsylvania’s seniors includes:

• $8.5 million for Home and Community Based Services, which help older adults remain at home and minimize their exposure to COVID-19. These services include personal care assistance; care management, help with household chores; grocery shopping; and transportation to essential services such as a medical appointment.

• $20.4 million for home-delivered meals for older adults. With this funding, states can also expand alternate delivery methods such as “drive-through” or “grab-and-go” meals for older adults who typically would participate in meal programs at community centers and other locations that are now closed.

• $4.3 million for the Family Caregiver Support Program to expand a range of services that help family and informal caregivers provide support for their loved ones at home. These services include caregiving supplies and services, counseling, respite care, caregiving training, and information referral services.

• $850,000 to support the State Long-term Care Ombudsman program in providing consumer advocacy services for residents of long-term care facilities across Pennsylvania. Restrictions on visitation have increased the demand for ombudsman services, as families seek assistance in ensuring the well-being of their loved ones. Pennsylvania’s Ombudsman Program will seek to expand its virtual presence to residents and their families. This funding can be used to hire additional staff; to purchase technology and associated hardware, and to purchase personal protective equipment once in-person visits resume.

Visit the PA Department of Health’s dedicated Coronavirus webpage here for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19. Learn more about the various programs offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging here.

Media contacts: Karen Gray, 717-705-3702 or karengray@pa.gov

Hackett resigns from Pa. workforce board, blasts Wolf over recent comments

WILKES-BARRE — State Sen. John Yudichak on Friday said business leaders like Chris Hackett, CEO of i2M in Mountain Top, and union leaders who represent essential workers, should have been part of the crisis response team from day one on how the Commonwealth can best protect the safety of employees in manufacturing facilities across Pennsylvania.

Yudichak’s comments come after Hackett resigned from the Workforce Development Board, the governor’s private sector policy advisor on building a strong workforce development system aligned with state education and economic development goals.

Hackett’s letter of resignation to Gov. Tom Wolf was dated April 23. Hackett was appointed to the board in 2016.

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Will Pennsylvania Run Out Of Unemployment Money?

Since March 15, nearly 1.6 million Pennsylvanians have filed for traditional unemployment compensation. Thousands more have applied for help under a new federal program for self-employed and contract workers. But the unprecedented volume of applications may still not reflect the true number of people in need.

Melinda Reich worked as a prep cook at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 on Pittsburgh’s North Side until coronavirus shut the restaurant down. Things financially were already tight: her hours dropped at the end of football season and baseball wouldn’t start until April 1st. But Reich had prepared for that.

“You have to set yourself up for it,” she said. “You know you’re going to be slow, so you have to put money away.”

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Department of Community & Economic Development: New funding available for technology-based companies

Text of April 23 press release.

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin announced that new funding is available to help technology-based companies impacted by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

“DCED remains committed to identifying new resources that can support Pennsylvania’s businesses during this unprecedented time,” said Sec. Davin. “Our tech companies have been stepping up to provide us with innovative ways to produce personal protective equipment and other supplies, and we must make sure they remain in a position to provide those critical services and ideas in our response to this pandemic.”

The Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA) today approved the disbursement of $1 million in funding to each of the four Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), which will then match that funding with $1 million. The funds will be delivered to each BFTP through a Technology Development grant. The BFTP will identify eligible projects and will provide capital to existing startup clients experiencing hardships due to the impact of COVID-19.

Additionally, Venture Capital Revolving Loan Account funds can be used to make loans to venture capital funds that invest in technology companies in Pennsylvania. The funds will be delivered through loans to existing venture capital firms in the BFTDA portfolio in amounts ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. To deploy capital quickly, BFTDA venture managers will be required to identify specific COVID-19 impacted companies that, by way of the BFTDA capital infusion, will have an opportunity to remain in operation through this economic downturn.

Finally, DCED also announced that Manufacturing Innovation Program (MIP) funds are available to encourage and assist university researchers as they work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Through the COVID-19 Challenge program, DCED will engage Pennsylvania colleges and universities in the rapid development and deployment of new technologies, products, and processes with the potential to positively impact the commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. DCED is soliciting proposals from accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities for projects that fit within the program guidelines and address the commonwealth’s response to COVID-19. This program will be funded through the PA Manufacturing Program.

Resources and information continue to be posted and updated at https://dced.pa.gov/resources as they become available. Businesses seeking guidance from DCED can also contact its customer service resource account at ra-dcedcs@pa.gov.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, Pennsylvanians should follow www.governor.pa.gov and www.doh.pa.gov.

Media contacts: Casey Smith, casesmith@pa.gov

More than 1.5 million unemployment claims filed in Pa. as jobless numbers continue to climb

The number of Pennsylvanians filing unemployment claims continues to climb.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said that the state had surpassed 1.5 million unemployment claims filed since March 15, when the state rolled out coronavirus mitigation efforts.

By contrast, in the three weeks prior to March 13, the state logged 40,000 new unemployment claims.

The state also logged 976 new workers compensation claims. Oleksiak said that about 302 of those appeared to be related to workers in the health care, first responder or law enforcement sectors – and all are related to COVID-19.

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