Due to the economic impact caused by COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed or underemployed. The federal and state governments have responded with changes to the unemployment compensation system to provide some additional economic assistance to qualifying employees. This article summarizes the changes, the process for applying for unemployment compensation, and how to get more information about the process.
Before we dig into the specific changes, due to the tremendous volume of applications, the Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation (“UC Office”) is struggling to keep up. The high number of people filing for unemployment is delaying processing time and making it increasingly difficult to get access to answers.
The best way to get a response from the UC Office is to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When emailing, provide your full name as it appears on your claim and the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
Filing a Claim for Unemployment Compensation
To determine if you are eligible for UC benefits or other COVID-19 related benefits, review the scenarios listed on this eligibility chart.
In addition to or in lieu of UC benefits, UC rules may entitle you to (and require you to exhaust) Emergency Paid Sick Leave or Emergency Family Medical Leave available under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Claimants can calculate their weekly benefit rate here.
Claimants are also strongly encouraged to file for UC benefits online. The UC Office’s “How to File” page contains a great deal of information to help claimants start the process. A separate page labeled “Filing an Initial Claim” lists some additional quick tips on filing here.
The UC office has suspended some of the existing UC rules to make it easier for claimants to file for and receive benefits. The two main changes are:
- The UC Office no longer requires claimants to prove they have applied for or searched for a new job or register with PACareerLink.
- Eligible claimants are now able to receive benefits for the first week they are unemployed.
The Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation has provided the following guidelines for what you can expect after filing a UC claim:
- If you are eligible for unemployment compensation, you will receive two letters and a four-digit PIN. Your PIN will arrive in the mail.
- If approved, your first benefit payment should arrive within four weeks of filing.
- Continue filing your bi-weekly claim, even while waiting for approval.
- If you receive your financial determination and find an error, you can file an appeal.
Federal CARES Act
Additional Unemployment Benefit
Under the federal CARES Act recently signed into law by the President, claimants will receive an additional $600 per week from March 29, 2020 through July 31, 2020. These payments will begin after the UC Office modifies its system.
Fortunately, the UC Office will backdate claims so that the claimant is paid from the time they are separated from their job (on or after March 29, 2020) or otherwise become eligible under the CARES Act.
The CARES Act will also provide unemployment benefits to those who are self-employed, independent contractors, and gig workers. The UC Office is currently working to implement a system for these payments.
The UC Office will update its website with more information as it becomes available. Importantly, those qualifying under this provision should NOT file a claim through the existing system if they are not otherwise eligible for UC benefits.
Unemployment Compensation Exhaustees
The CARES Act provides for additional weeks of UC benefits for those who have exhausted their benefits. Additional information will be posted on the UC Office’s website as it becomes available.
If you lose your job, UC rules enable you to continue healthcare coverage through your former employer under COBRA. If you opt to take COBRA, you are required to pay the entire premium. Unfortunately, this can be an expensive option to maintain health insurance.
Alternatively, job loss is a qualifying event that will allow you to enroll in a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act outside of open enrollment.
Potential Fraud Issues
Unfortunately, some people are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities created by COVID-19 and are attempting to defraud those filing for benefits. This deception is especially true when it comes to UC.
Beware of fraudulent unemployment websites.
The Office of Unemployment Compensation will never ask you to pay for UC services or to provide credit information.
Always ensure you are on the Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation site (the web address will start with uc.pa.gov) when
- filing for benefits
- changing your personal info, or
- signing up for direct deposit.
Do not give any information over the phone without independently verifying that the caller is who they say they are. The best way is to hang up the call and call the office directly to confirm that they called you. Do not rely on that caller to provide you with a call-back number.