25 May 2023- The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) today announced ongoing investments in the Unemployment Compensation (UC) system as well as a status update on the Department’s support services available to workers and employers experiencing economic challenges.
When he took office in January, Governor Josh Shapiro promised to make overhauling the UC system a priority – and he is following through on his commitment to enhance the system’s functionality to process claims in a timely manner, optimize customer service at all levels, and bolster the system’s resilience during times of low or high unemployment.
Under the leadership of Acting Secretary Nancy Walker, L&I has hired more than 200 additional UC interviewers to staff service centers and answer calls. This move to more robustly staff the phone lines is part of a comprehensive strategy to augment the overall UC workforce and prioritize technical updates to the system. This hiring is the latest in the Department’s efforts to revamp the UC experience, and it comes on the heels of Acting Secretary Walker’s decision to indefinitely extend in-person UC assistance at PA CareerLink locations across the Commonwealth.
“The Department of Labor & Industry is committed to providing timely services to Pennsylvanians who lose work through no fault of their own and to businesses that are adversely affected by unexpected job dislocation,” Acting Secretary Walker said. “L&I is focused on eliminating the pandemic backlog of claims while building an Unemployment Compensation system and a Rapid Response protocol that are resilient and capable of delivering the services Pennsylvanians need – and today’s announcement is another step towards making this a reality.”
The Department’s top priority is resolution of the pandemic backlog of claims, which includes any unresolved claims filed between March 2020 and November 2021. During this period of high unemployment, the Department received 3.7 million regular UC claims and 3.4 million Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims. The outstanding backlog of unresolved pandemic claims totaled 12,832 at the end of April 2023.
There are no claims in the pandemic backlog that are waiting for an initial review; rather, each of these claims is pending for reasons of extenuating circumstance. For example, many of these claims lack required information for eligibility determination from the claimant, employer, or both, and can only be resolved through the manual process of collecting the needed information. In some cases, claimants filed a claim but never filed a weekly certification. In others, a final determination of ineligibility for UC benefits is pending while the Department verifies that the claimant received benefits through the temporary federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Separately, the Department continues to process new claims. In this regular workload category, most claimants wait fewer than six weeks for a decision on eligibility for UC benefits. In April 2023, L&I received 26,602 claims in its regular workload and distributed UC benefits totaling $110,479,338 to 74,141 eligible claimants.
L&I is also working aggressively to resolve the unprecedented number of fraud reports filed during the pandemic period of high unemployment. At the end of April, the number of outstanding fraud reports totaled 25,548 – down from 34,000 at the start of the Shapiro Administration in January.
In April, L&I served 50,999 individuals who called the UC helpline at 888-313-7284; 5,223 individuals through the UC chat service; and 17,033 individuals through email. Through the Department’s UC Connect program offering in-person customer service at Pennsylvania CareerLink® locations, L&I served 3,516 individuals in April for a total of 40,673 since the program’s launch in May 2022.
Recent functional changes and upgrades to the UC program include:
- L&I encourages UC claimants to contact the Department through its convenient chat option, called PAULA. PAULA is built to answer the most frequently asked questions, including how to file for benefits, how to use a debit card, and how to complete the requirements for work searches. At any time, individuals can ask to speak to a live representative for help with checking a claim status, filing for weekly benefits, checking a payment status, changing personal information, or resolving questions about overpayments. Customer-service agents are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- L&I has implemented an interface with the Integrity Data Hub (IDH), a multi-state data system established and funded by the United States Department of Labor and operated by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. This tool mitigates fraud risk by comparing UC claims data against a variety of datasets, which will help the Department detect and prevent both eligibility fraud and identity fraud.
L&I reminds UC claimants of their responsibility to file weekly benefit certifications online or by using the department’s touch tone telephone service, called PAT, at 888-255-4728 (en Español 877-888-8104).
RAPID RESPONSE SERVICES
Rapid Response Services are available for businesses and workers in the event of job dislocation caused by a natural disaster, economic transition, planned layoff or closure through the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). Rapid Response services are available to employers and employees at no cost. The Rapid Response Services Team provides businesses with a customizable approach to their specific business needs as challenges occur, which can include layoff aversion, coordination of business closure to maximize public and private resources, assisting with the re-employment of impacted workers, and other transitional services.
For the month of April, L&I provided Rapid Response Services to 36 employers and 820 workers. Since the start of the year, L&I’s Rapid Response Services team has supported 124 employers and 6,780 workers.