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L&I extends backdated jobless claims

The state Department of Labor & Industry has temporarily extended its backdating of unemployment compensation claims from six weeks to as many as 52, so claimants can get benefits that remained out of reach in the spring, after a crush of applications due to the COVID-19 shutdowns made it hard to get help from the staff.

The department is doing it “to ensure no eligible claimants will lose out,” Labor Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said during a Webex conference call with reporters Monday.

The department fielded more than 1 million new applications in 21 days starting in mid-March, according to the department.

“Due to the abrupt and unprecedented increase in claims volume, L&I could not respond promptly to many claimants who had filing issues or needed additional assistance,” the news release stated.

Those claimants who eventually got through — and those who didn’t — thus lost out, because the normal rules precluded providing benefits further back than six weeks, without “a time-intensive investigation,” according to the news release.

“The temporary regulation change will simplify the process and allow for more approvals at a faster pace,” the news release stated.

To file a backdated claim, send an email to uchelp@pa.gov with the subject line “Back Date Request,” the news release stated.

The email should note the exact date the employee left employment and any other relevant information, Oleksiak said.

Send only one email, because sending more will “clog the system,” Oleksiak said.

“We’ll try to get their claims fixed as soon as possible,” he said.

Claimants for backdated benefits will include those who never filed, perhaps because they tried to do it on the phone, due to lack of internet access and who couldn’t get through, said Susan Dickinson, director of unemployment compensation benefits policy.

It will also include those who managed to file online but couldn’t get all the prior weeks to which they’re entitled, Dickinson said.

“We don’t have a sense of how many people that may be,” Dickinson said.

In its continuing effort to fight fraud in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, department consultant ID.me is adding a requirement for applicants whose identities it’s trying to verify to provide a selfie, according to Oleksiak.

The requirement applies in all the states for which the company is providing identity verifications, Oleksiak said.

“They think it will further filter out the bad guys,” he said.

“These guys are clever, they’re smart,” he said. “We need to stay one step ahead of them.”

“We ask you to submit a photo of yourself,” ID.me states on a “help” page. “Selfies help us verify your identity when compared to the photo on your government issued ID document — driver’s license, passport or passport card.”

The department is urging the federal government to extend PUA, which helps the self-employed, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which helps those whose benefits have run out, because those programs will expire next month, Oleksiak said.

“Thousands would be devastated, and it would impact the entire economy,” he said. “This extra help from the federal government is vital.”

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