PA Extends Benefits Window For Unemployment Compensation

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KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – A program to add 13 weeks to the amount of time residents of Pennsylvania can collect unemployment benefits launched over the weekend, said state officials.

Called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, the federally-backed initiative will allow people whose benefits have run out or will run out soon to continue to receive them.

“Once the system sees that their balance of their money in their fund goes to zero, it automatically sets up the [PEUC] claim the next day,” said Susan Dickinson, Director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy.

The state’s unemployment benefits agency continues to deal with “an avalanche of claims,” said Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.

In addition to PEUC, Pennsylvania has received 2.1 million unemployment claims. That’s for both traditional unemployment and for a new program aimed at alleviating the financial pain of independent contractors, the self-employed and gig workers.

Customer service systems at the agency continue to strain to meet communication needs. The email helpline is now answering questions from 44 days ago, and staff have logged more than 80,000 hours in overtime since mid-March.

As counties reopen, it’s not clear if that has pulled people unemployed due to COVID-19 back into the workforce.

“There has been a decrease in the number of weekly claims, almost continuously from the first few weeks” after the shutdown order, said Oleksiak, but it’s not clear if that corresponds with which counties have recently expanded commercial activity again.