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L&I working through payment glitches

The state Department of Labor & Industry is working through glitches as it begins paying benefits for two unemployment programs to benefit those out of work because of COVID-19, following Congress’s reauthorization of the programs after they expired just before the end of last year.

“I understand how frustrating it is,” said acting Labor Secretary Jennifer Berrier. “Not everything has gone as smoothly as we wanted.”

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ended Dec. 26, and the federal government didn’t complete its extension of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that renewed them until the next day — and then didn’t give states guidance for the renewal until Jan. 11, according to a department news release.

After that, there was a further delay as the department recoded its computer system to account for changes in the law, according to the news release.

Payments for the PUA program, which helps the self-employed who have been idled by COVID-19, began Friday, and there have been several issues, each involving small numbers of claimants, according to Berrier.

As of Tuesday morning, the department had dealt with some of those issues and was working on others, she said.

Some website pages were slow to load or failed to load because of heavy traffic.

The department solved that by creating a “waiting room” for claimants to enter the website, according to a department news release.

Some claimants were instructed to reopen their claims even though they had properly filed for the week of Dec. 26.

Those claimants can solve that by following the directions in the “Latest News and Announcements” on their dashboards, according to the news release.

Some U.S. citizens identified themselves as “permanent residents,” which prevented them from receiving benefits.

They can solve that problem by uploading their birth certificates, passports or other documents showing their citizenship status, according to the news release.

Some non-citizens identified themselves as “permanent residents,” which prevented them from receiving benefits. They can solve that by uploading their permanent resident/visa information to their dashboards, according to the news release.

Some claimants filed for four weeks on Jan. 24, but only got one payment, a problem that is the department’s responsibility to fix, the news release said.

Some claimants filed for a PUA renewal before the program reopened, clicking a link labeled “COVID-19-2,” causing their claim to appear to be inactive.

The department should have fixed that problem by now on most if not all claims, according to the news release.

The department will update its progress on any remaining fixes on social media and its website.

Claimants who still have issues should email ucpua@pa.gov. Emails are generally a more efficient way to handle issues than phone calls, Berrier said.

Payments for PEUC, which extends benefits for workers who have exhausted their prior benefits, began Sunday, but shortly afterward, the department’s computer system began limiting the claimants to one week of benefits, even though they’re entitled to file for four.

The department fixed the problem Monday evening, Berrier said.

“We did everything possible to keep the wait to a minimum,” she said.

PEUC claims are actually not being renewed, but are being switched back, after recipients had been moved to the state’s Extended Benefit program in late December, on the suspicion that the federal government might not renew PEUC, according to Berrier. “To be sure they would get some benefits,” Berrier said.

About 180,000 PUA claimants have made 420,000 benefit requests since the program reopened, Berrier said.

About 119,000 PEUC claimants have made 115,000 requests.

The PEUC renewal provides 11 weeks of benefits, which are in addition to 13 weeks provided for in the original CARES Act.

PEUC kicks in after 26 weeks of regular unemployment compensation runs out.

The state’s Extended Benefits program, which kicks in after PEUC, provides an additional 13 weeks.

“Thank you for your patience,” Berrier said, addressing claimants. “I realize people are suffering.”

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