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Labor & Industry Secretary: Ending Wolf's disaster declaration would place a heavier burden on PA workers

Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said Wednesday that ending the COVID-19 disaster declaration would end temporary measures put in place to help workers get benefits faster

HARRISBURG, Pa. — If Governor Tom Wolf's COVID-19 disaster declaration is ended prematurely, the burden on workers and their employers will be increased, Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said Wednesday.

“Many Pennsylvanians are out of work because of the pandemic and the governor’s disaster declaration is helping them to more quickly and easily get unemployment benefits,” Oleksiak said in a press release. “These benefits are a lifeline to many families at a time of great need in their lives. The disaster declaration is also helping to lower costs for employers across the state who don’t have to pay for COVID-related claims by their employees.”

Oleksiak's release comes after news that the Pensylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding the governor's emergency declaration.

The State General Assembly voted to end a statewide emergency proclamation the governor enacted in March, to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Pennsylvania Senate GOP leaders Joe Scarnati and Jake Corman filed a petition in Commonwealth Court asking that Wolf be directed to end the shutdown order.  

Wolf then petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to use King’s Bench jurisdiction to rule in his favor immediately, saying the Legislature is misrepresenting what the concurrent resolution means and that they don’t have the constitutional authority to end the declaration.

In his statement Wednesday, Oleksiak said Wolf's disaster declaration enables L&I to waive the one-week waiting period and job search and work registration requirements for claimants and provide many contributory and reimbursable employers with automatic relief from benefit charges. 

RELATED: Court agrees to hear case regarding state's emergency declaration

Those advantages will be lost when the disaster declaration ends, Oleksiak said.

In addition, he said, without the disaster declaration the following would occur:

Employers

  • Costs would increase for employers that contribute to the unemployment fund with the end of automatic relief from charges for COVID-19 related claims. Many employers will pay the full cost of their employee’s UC benefits.
  • Costs would increase for employers who did not pay the solvency fee for 2020 with the end of the opportunity for more time to pay their COVID-19 related charges or the option to pay without interest until January 1, 2020. 

Workers

  • Workers would not receive any benefits for the first week they are out of work because a waiver in Act 9 ends. L&I would also lose the federal funding for the waiting week.
  • The temporary suspension of work search and work regulation requirements would end.

UC Payments

Since March 15, Pennsylvanians have received more than $16.7 billion in UC benefits, including:

  • $8.4 billion from regular UC
  • $7 billion from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program (extra $600 per week)
  • $1.2 billion from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program
  • $96 million in extended benefits through Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

UC Claim Statistics

Since March 15, more than 2.7 million total claims have been filed for unemployment compensation benefits:

  • 2.1 million for regular UC
  • 628,000 for PUA