HARRISBURG, Pa. — More than a million Pennsylvanians applied for the pandemic unemployment assistance, known as PUA.
For a lot of people, it's the first time they've ever signed up for any kind of unemployment and they say it's difficult to understand.
People are calling the State Department of Labor and Industry hundreds of time each day trying to get their unemployment questions answered.
With no luck with the state, they're now finding the answers elsewhere.
"Other people are having a bunch of issues unfortunately and that's what the group is there for, said Hayley Michele. She's one of the administrators on the PUA Pennsylvania Facebook group.
"It's so important for people to have this community because other people are going through the same things," said Hayley.
The group is meant to help sort out the issues for the more than 1.4 million Pennsylvanians who have signed up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
That's the program for people who don't normally qualify for regular unemployment, like gig or 10-99 workers.
"We noticed that we needed help ourselves and then we figured out the answers and so we were able to help other people, so we're learning together basically," she said.
Michele is currently getting PUA benefits and gives advice based on what she went through during this process.
"We do not work for the department of labor, but we find it extremely important for people to help other people in this time of need."
She says some of the biggest issues people complain about include seeing IP on your status, which means in progress, but it doesn't really explain why,
There are several posts about how to remedy that.
Some other posts are about if people qualify for PUA or regular unemployment.
"It's confusing, especially for the business owners because they've never qualified before, so they don't know how to fill out the application or they're running into issues because they don't know how to answer the questions because they've never been on unemployment before as a business owner," said Michele.
With 16,000 members and counting, the Facebook group continues to grow with people looking for answers.
"I was hoping there would be less, the goal is for there to be less so there would be less problems, but it blew up and we're happy to help people so it's no worry for us, it's just sad to see all the problems and all the members having these issues."
Michele expects to see even more people asking questions since, after July 25th, people will no longer get the extra $600 from CARES Act funding on unemployment payments.
If you're struggling, there are other options in PA for financial help.
Also, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project says it has "A backchannel to the Department of Labor and Industry to help people who are having trouble accessing their unemployment compensation." That organization helps people all over the state.
We also reached out to the Department of Labor and Industry about the Facebook page and here was the response FOX43 Finds Out received via email:
"Since March the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has paid a total of $29 billion in unemployment compensation, including $3.7 billion from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Other steps taken to improve customer service since mid-March:
- 203,000 overtime hours worked by UC staff, including service centers.
- Doubled UC service center staffing from 775 to 1,594, increasing 106 percent by hiring of new employees and reassigning of staff from other state offices/agencies
- Responded to more than 618,000 total emails
- Held eight weekly virtual town halls for people to ask questions directly to our UC experts. The next Town Hall is this Thursday.
- Launched a virtual phone assistant to answer many common questions.
- Created a resource guide for commonly asked questions
Of all 3.3 million UC claims filed between March 15 and June 20, 92% have been paid or determined to be ineligible. We understand the frustration of the 8% of claimants that are under review by our UC staff. If a person’s application requires UC staff to intervene, such as to request more information or work with the person to correct an application, it increases the time to make determinations on a case by case basis. Due to this complexity and those that may be unfamiliar with the process as a whole, we provide numerous resources and tools on our website to help people through the process.
Additionally, Pennsylvania, like states across the country, is experiencing fraudulent activity with the PUA program which is requiring the attention of department staff. The department is working with law enforcement. You can read more about the scam issue here.
Other resources are as follows:
Pennsylvania has implemented all of the new programs under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – for self-employed, gig workers, contractors and others not normally eligible for UC.
Press releases and other important links
Video and audio from Secretary Jerry Oleksiak available here
If individuals have remaining issues, we recommend claimants to reach out to our staff by emailing UCPUA@PA.GOV or also calling 855-284-8545, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 3:00PM.
Please check www.uc.pa.gov/PUA for updates."