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Clogged phone lines, delayed payments. What is the PA unemployment office doing about it?

Pennsylvania's Department of Labor & Industry worked to provide answers Monday for plenty of frustrated people trying to get the money they're owed

Pennsylvania's Department of Labor & Industry worked to answer continued questions Monday as officials said they are responding to nearly 11,000 emails a day from people asking for help with their unemployment payments.

The Department stressed email inquiries are the fastest way to get a response from officials and to send that email to the department (UChelp@pa.gov) with the last four numbers of the claimant's social security number and detailed information on the problem they are facing.

The PA Department of Labor and Industry also touched on ongoing problems facing the PUA and PEUC programs. These two programs expired just before the end of December before President Trump signed the measure that extended the programs again in January. The expiration, however, caused a delay in issuing money for weeks. 

PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)

- Resolved: The L&I office said claimants who filed for the weeks of January 2, 9, and 16 but did not receive payments and are eligible for payments should have now received their money from the L&I office. 

PUA claimants that have filed for the first time in 2021 will be receiving ID Me emails beginning this week and will need to verify their identities before they can proceed. 

- Unresolved: The L&I office said a 'small' number of claimants are continuing to incorrectly see a USCIS code that they have self-identified as a permanent resident instead of a US citizen. "We are doing everything we can to resolve this issue as quickly as possible," said Jennifer Berrier, Acting Secretary of the PA Labor and Industry. She added they are making progress and hope to have this issue resolved 'soon.'

- The L&I office said many claimants experienced wait times and slow website loading last week, however it said complaints over these issues have dropped and officials hope that is a sign that the improvements put into place have resolved this

- 562,000 continued claims have been received by the UC office since this past Sunday

PEUC (Pandemic emergency unemployment compensation)

- Unresolved: The L&I office said it is still working on 3 outstanding PEUC issues:

1) PEUC claimants who exhausted their weeks on December 26 and were placed on Pennsylvania's extended benefits program. "We are still currently working on that issue but we are making progress," said Berrier.

2) Claimants who have filed for the week of Jan. 2 and 9th before the extensions were in place and did not receive payment. "We are still working on that issue as well," said Berrier.

3) Claimants who did not get the option to file for the weeks between Dec. 26 and the day they reopened their claims. "We are making really good progress on that issue and hope to have it resolved shortly," said Berrier. 

CUSTOMER SERVICE COMPLAINTS

- The PA Dept. Of Labor and Industry said it is hiring 120 more people to help handle their customer service inquiries via phone, online chat, and email.

IF YOU RECEIVED AN UNEMPLOYMENT TAX PAPER AND YOU HAVEN'T FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

- If you received a 1099 G tax form, but never filed or received unemployment compensation, the PA Department of Labor and Industry is warning you that you could be a victim of identity fraud.

- Immediately visit this website and follow the instructions to fill out forms to report the fraud

"Filling out this form is very crucial," said Berrier. "It allows us to investigate and alert the IRS of any necessary corrections of income"

ADVICE FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THROUGH IT

Sharman Willis has been unemployed since the summer of 2020. She received normal unemployment benefits through the end of the year, but then experienced a delay in payments in 2021. Throughout the entire month of January she only received one check for $105 dollars. However, she was able to finally get through on the phone lines and obtain the payments. 

FOX43 asked Willis to provide her advice to people who are also struggling to receive their checks. 

Step 1: Join social media groups to get advice and help

"The Facebook group that has been most helpful to me is the PA Unemployment Question Page.  That group has over 3,000 members and there is a lot of knowledge being shared. There are others too, but that one seems to be the biggest," she said.

Step 2: Willis says, try to get someone on the phone if you can

"Emails take weeks to get a response. I sent one on 1/5 and didn't get a reply until 1/20. The response was very general and didn't answer my specific questions.  I sent another one on 1/28 and haven't heard back yet," said Willis. "The Chat bot, Paula, also only responds with general information. I found a 'script' if you will on the Facebook group that details how to get past the bot to a human and that takes hours. I spent over an hour on both 1/15 and 1/28 to get to a person who basically told me I needed to wait until my claim was built."  

Willis said she downloaded an 'auto dialer' app to help her break through the phone lines. 

"Auto Dialer Expert app (also suggested by the Facebook group), made 185 calls on 1/28 until I finally got a live agent on the phone.  She explained that the Chat agents don't have the same capabilities, and she was able to get my claim set up and finally I was paid on 2/3," said Willis. 

Listen to Willis tell her story in her own words:

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