Three More Charged With Stealing Over $140K in PUA Funding
AG Shapiro Has Charged 35 Individuals with PUA Fraud to Date
HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that the Office of Attorney General has filed charges against three Dauphin County residents for fraudulently applying for and receiving more than $140,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funding.
“These defendants took advantage of a program meant to help Pennsylvania families put food on the table,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “We’re committed to shutting down scammers and protecting public funds wherever they’re found.”
The Office charged Tyreese Lewis, 20, Kymaury Goldsby, 21, and Dorien Ervin, 21, with fraudulently applying for and receiving PUA benefits using stolen and solicited personal information. They each also applied for benefits using their own names, even though they were not eligible to receive the benefits because they had not been out of work due to the pandemic.
Lewis completed or assisted individuals in completing 19 applications using others’ personal information. Additionally, Lewis applied for multiple business loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, falsely claiming that he had businesses that were suffering due to COVID-19. Between May 2020 and March 2021, Lewis fraudulently obtained and assisted others in obtaining $147,250 in PUA benefits. This amount includes the funds issued for the applications in the defendants’ own names, as well as those submitted using others’ personal information.
To date, the Office of Attorney General has charged 35 individuals, including 24 inmates and their accomplices, across the Commonwealth for submitting fraudulent PUA applications amounting to more than $3.2 million in illegally obtained PUA funds.
The PUA Act is a federal program created as part of the CARES Act. The PUA program provides unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, the PUA program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (DLI), but its benefits are funded in large part by the federal government.
Individuals are only eligible for PUA benefits if they are both unemployed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic and available to work. In order to receive benefits, an individual must access the PUA website and file a PUA claim. The applicant is required to enter personally identifiable information as well as answer the eligibility questions.
All three defendants were charged with Theft by Unlawful Taking, Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Theft by Unlawful Taking, Theft by Deception, Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Theft by Deception, and Access Device Fraud. Lewis was also charged with Corrupt Organizations, Identity Theft, Tampering With Public Records, and Criminal Use of a Communication Facility. This case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Megan Madaffari. All charges are accusations. The defendants are innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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What you need to know about Pennsylvania’s new unemployment system
What to expect
In order to avoid issues, state officials have released a swath of tutorials and information to help users navigate the new system, which is slated to open on June 8.
“I hope our users take a little time to check out the new system before it launches, so they feel comfortable logging in,” Berrier said on May 28. Starting Tuesday, the system will resume taking both new and continuing unemployment claims, both of which are currently paused during the transition period.
Online tutorials are available in English and Spanish. The Department of Labor and Industry is hosting a series of live workshops, which are also recorded, in which recipients and employers can learn more about the new system.
Information about widespread glitches will be shared on the department’s social media channels, or communicated directly to users, said Berrier.
Expecting a high volume of users on June 8, the state has instituted a “waiting room” function when claimants log on, to keep the system from crashing.
“If you can afford to wait a few days, wait a few days,” said Simon-Mishel, explaining that will give the state more time to work out initial bugs, and that the wait times should be lower.
Philadelphia Legal Assistance has published its own online reference database, which will also be surveying users about their experiences, as well as sharing news and information about glitches and fixes.
To help deal with the transition, Pennsylvania hired 500 customer-service staff to take questions, who will be trained and ready in time for June 8, according to Berrier. The UC Service Center number is 888-313-7284.
Claimants who run into trouble filing online, or who normally file over the phone, will still be able to do so starting on June 10. The number to call will be 888-255-4728 for English or 877-888-8104 for Spanish.
The first few weeks will likely be bumpy, both state and nonprofit advocates noted, but all said they hoped the new technology would eventually improve service.
“Technology changes will always have problems, even if you do a top-notch job,” said Simon-Mishel.
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.
Federal unemployment benefits are ending. Here's where you need to go for additional help
Federal unemployment benefits for 558,000 Pennsylvanians will end Sept. 4, including the $300 additional weekly payment for all claimants, and state officials are again urging residents to seek help for whatever assistance they might need.
Pennsylvania Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier reiterated previous warnings about the end of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistant (PUA) programs, saying at a Monday news conference that the change impacts not only those receiving the additional $300, whether they are under the PUA or not, but also gig workers, independent contractors and business owners.
“These programs have literally been a lifesaver to Pennsylvanians,” Berrier said. “They’ve helped Pennsylvanians buy food, pay bills, get medicine and pay for housing and that money was also invested into local communities and helped local businesses remain afloat.”
Since the economy began reopening following pandemic restrictions, many businesses have struggled to attract workers, particularly in the service industry. Some eateries are so short-staffed that they have stopped dining service and focused on take-out and delivery, while others have had to temporarily close.
Berrier cautioned, though, that businesses and customers probably should not expect workers to flood the job market because there still remain other obstacles to people to return to work, such as a lack of childcare and the fear of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
“There are many reasons,” she said.
More:Federal pandemic unemployment benefits end next month in Pa. What to know.
More:Unemployment fraud on the rise in Pa. Here's what to look for
Where to go for help
Claimants affected by the end of the PUA benefits should visit the state Department of Human Services website at dhs.pa.gov for information on health, medical, and childcare benefit programs, Berrier said.
The state’s PUA hotline (855-284-8545) will remain open for two weeks after Sept. 4. Once it closes, PUA claimants should call the regular unemployment compensation number (888-313-7284) for help.
The agency said in a statement that Pennsylvanians can file for a final week of benefits through the PUA during the week ending Sept. 11.
Also, the department said unemployment compensation will be limited to 26 weeks once the federal extension ends. The maximum available is $580 a week.
Those needing help finding work can go to pacareerlink.pa.gov to find a county PA CareerLink office and other information on services, such as job openings and resume writing.
“We want individuals affected by the end of the federal programs to be as prepared as possible,” Berrier said.
Inez Titus, the Department of Human Services’ deputy secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance, also appeared with Berrier and said that anyone losing federal benefits “should know that help is available” through her department.
Resources available from Human Services include information on Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Care Works.
Applications for assistance can be submitted at compass.state.pa.us.
Titus noted that a national eviction moratorium has been lifted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision, but that her department still offers assistance through the Eviction and Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
“There should be no shame or stigma in asking for help,” she said.
More:Pa. eviction moratorium set to end. What renters, landlords need to know
When the pandemic began ravaging Pennsylvania’s economy in 2020, her department experienced a “tsunami of claims” as hundreds of thousands of people found themselves out of work.
Labor & Industry has struggled ever since with a backlog of claims, but Berrier said Monday that the number of claims waiting for action has fallen from 325,000 in June to 190,000 after the implementation of the new unemployment compensation system.
She said questions about a claimant’s eligibility and an employer contesting a claim are the two most frequent reasons for cases to become backlogged.
“We are working as quickly as we can,” she said.
More:Having problems with Pa. new unemployment system? Know these tips
J.D. Prose is a reporter for the USA TODA Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]
View CommentsSours: https://www.goerie.com/story/news/2021/08/30/pa-unemployment-benefits-ending/5651496001/
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) manages the states’ unemployment insurance program, which includes the federally funded pandemic unemployment programs. See further details below on the newly enhanced benefits available now, how to file a claim and whom to contact.
Also per the official PA unemployment website, they are aware of the ongoing issues people are experiencing when filing claims with the new unemployment system in place. You can see the comments forum at the end of this article for some of the reported issues and delayed payments.
End of Federal Enhanced Benefits in Pennsylvania (PUA, PEUC, $300 FPUC and $100 MEUC)
The PA Department of Labor has confirmed that claimants on the PEUC, PUA, MEUC and FPUC programs will file/certify for benefits for the last time covering the week ending September 4, 2021. Any active claims, with or without remaining balances, will expire after this date and any weeks after Sep 5th will NOT be paid.
While there has been a lot of discussion around extending pandemic unemployment benefits, the Biden administration has confirmed that states will have to use already allocated stimulus funding to expand or extend traditional state unemployment programs. PA state leaders have not indicated they are planning to do so at this stage, but I will post updates if things change.
“With the end of the federal pandemic programs rapidly approaching, L&I is reaching out to individuals who are receiving benefits to these programs to ensure they are aware of other forms of support,” said Secretary Berrier. “We are also continuing to work with our workforce partners, including PA CareerLink, to provide as many opportunities as possible for Pennsylvanians to connect with employers and find a good job before the federal unemployment benefit programs end.”
Some claimants may be eligible for State Extended Benefits (SEB), but after September 4th all claimants must have a regular UI claim to continue receiving benefits. L&I has also compiled a list of non-unemployment benefit programs that can serve as resources and provide assistance. The list is available here.
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Unemployment Benefit Extensions to September 2021
Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARPA), enhanced unemployment benefits have been extended until September 6th. This includes further extensions to the PUA program, PEUC program, $300 weekly payment under the FPUC program and $100 Mixed Earners (MEUC) program. There were also provisions in the Biden Stimulus package for Unemployment tax breaks on the first $10,200 of benefits received in 2020.
Note that unlike many other states which ended pandemic benefits early, PA has kept theirs in place until the week ending September 4th in line with available federal funding.
PA – Latest News and Status on PUA, PEUC, MEUC and $300 FPUC Extensions and Payment Schedule
The PA Dept. of L&I and their vendor has now updated their program/systems to enable the 25 (out of the 29 legislated) weeks of extensions funded under the ARPA Program. They will notify claimants who exhausted those benefits when their payments are ready to resume. Anyone currently collecting unemployment in any amount will also receive the $300 FPUC supplemental benefit.
PUA Claimants – Extended weeks now available for all new and active claimants. PUA benefits are payable for weeks of unemployment, partial unemployment, or inability to work caused by approved COVID-19 related reasons. The Weekly Benefit Amount is based on 2019 or 2020 taxes, 1099’s, W-2, or any additional documentation that will verify 2019 or 2020 earnings (you will be asked to submit documents via your UI portal). If you applied for PUA in 2020, your Weekly Benefit Amount is based upon the earnings for 2019. If you applied in 2021, your Weekly Benefit Amount is based upon your 2020 earnings.
PEUC Claimants – Extended weeks now available. New applicants or those in a new benefit year will need to exhaust regular/traditional unemployment state benefits before getting PEUC benefits. Weekly Benefit Amount based on regular unemployment claim. Extended Benefits becomes available after regular UC benefits and PEUC benefits are exhausted.
MEUC benefits – Online applications can be submitted until September 3rd, 2021. Supporting documents for claiming the extra $100 under this program MUST be submitted within 30 days of the application date. However it could take several weeks for the benefits to be paid given the processing queue and claimants should not submit more than once. Retroactive payments will be made where applicable.
All active claimants receiving regular state unemployment, PUA and PEUC will also continue to get the supplementary $300 FPUC weekly payment until September 4th, 2021.
Note – *Federal Law and UC portal will display PUA benefits increases to 79 weeks and PEUC up to 53 weeks — this is an error. Claimants will only receive PUA benefits increases to 75 weeks and for PEUC up to 49 weeks due to the last payable week of benefits being week ending September 4, 2021. See more on why this happened.
See more updates from the PA DOL here and the summary diagram below on the federal enhanced benefit programs. Per the comment forum below this article some claimants are still seeing delays or issues with their claims/payments. I will provide ongoing updates on resolution of these issues and further extensions, which you can follow via the options below.
2021 Unemployment Program Extensions Under COVID Relief Bill
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package was passed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, which among several other pandemic relief measures extends and provides additional federal funding for enhanced unemployment benefits. This includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and a reinstatement, but halving of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Program which provides a $300 supplemental weekly unemployment payment.
These programs have been funded and extended for 11 weeks (on top of any state funded extensions), covering the weeks of December 27th, 2020 to March 14th, 2021. The $300 FPUC will only be available from the week ending 1/2/21 (subject to states updating systems) and eligible claimants can receive up to 11 weeks of payments for a maximum total of $3,300). To receive FPUC benefits, you must be receiving and certifying for regular UI, PEUC, EB, or PUA UI benefits.
PA Dept of Labor and Industry – 2021 Unemployment Extension Payment Updates and Latest News – PUA and PEUC claimants
PEUC Claimants – Program Now Available from January 24th
- You can file for the additional 11 claim weeks during your biweekly cycle beginning Sunday, January 24.
- If you had some of your original 13 weeks left over on December 26, you will also receive the additional 11 weeks on Sunday.
- If you were being paid on the Pennsylvania’s Extended Benefits (EB) program before December 26, 2020, you MUST complete your EB benefits before the additional 11 weeks of PEUC can be added to your claim.
- You will automatically receive the extra $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – you do not need to take any action to get this boost.
- PEUC provides additional claim weeks to workers who have exhausted their regular Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits. Claimants are automatically enrolled in PEUC after they have reached their maximum claim weeks for UC.
- If you need to request backdating for the weeks between January 2 through January 23, please email [email protected].
- Existing PUA claimants can now file (via their PUA dashboard) for the additional 11 weeks of PUA payments. If approved, will be added to their accounts. Claimants are asked to this by Jan 29th, 2021
- Eligible PUA claimants will be able to file for the weeks of January: 2nd; 9th; 16th; and 23rd
- PUA claimants that no longer had claim weeks or did not file for the week ending Dec. 26 for any reason MUST REOPEN their claim before they can proceed. To do this, log onto your dashboard and click on the link to reopen a claim.
- If you tried to open a new claim while the PUA program was inactive, you will have error codes that the UC staff must fix before you can proceed. Please be patient while we work quickly to resolve your issue.
- If you are a new, first-time PUA claimant opening a claim in 2021, you cannot yet file. The PA Dept of L&I is still adding 2020 as a base wage year in the system and will notify you when you are able to file for benefits.
- You will automatically receive the extra $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – you do not need to take any action to get this boost.
The PA L&I is aware of ongoing issues for certain groups of claimants per their latest Twitter update below. The main issue is for new claims being filed this year. You cannot do much at this time other than wait for updates from PA L&I
PUA claimants that experience additional issues with their claims can email [email protected] and provide a short description of the problem, their name as it appears on their claim, and the last four digits of their Social Security number. This is another way to get a response if you cannot get through to anyone.
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January 21st, 2021 update: Active recipients under regular UI and getting State EB are being paid benefits, including the $300 weekly unemployment payment. However those who have exhausted their PUA and PEUC claims will see delays in continuing their benefits under the extended 11 week coverage period and subsequently will not get the supplementary $300 UI payment until those claims can be filed. The PA Dep of L&I has provided the following updates on delays with extending PUA and PEUC claims.
Funds are automatically added to UC claimant payments – Claimants DO NOT need to apply. PA’ians on UC may see FPUC payments as early as Tues., Jan. 12. PUA and PEUC programs are being updated to allow the extended payments to be applied for existing and newly eligible claimants.PA Office of Unemployment Compensation
Opened a new PUA claim prior to 12/27/2020: Do not take any action at this time. PA Dept of L&I will let you know when you should resume filing you benefit certifications. In the meantime, claimants should wait for further instructions before filing for additional weeks. Claimants enrolled in the programs prior to Dec. 26 should notfile a new claim.
If you have never had a PUA claim and have now opened (or plan to open) a new PUA claim 12/27/2020 or later: you may complete the application to have a PUA claim (see below), and must begin filing your weekly certifications for benefits. No payments will be released until the Department receives federal guidance and fully implemented.
Note: Some claimants have reported seeing what they believe are errors in their PUA system dashboard, but this is due to the reprogramming and the correct amounts will be populated into claimants’ dashboards when the system is ready to accept the new claims.
PEUC claimants: Those who had claim weeks remaining on Dec. 26 can now file for and receive payments for eligible weeks. The additional 11 weeks provided by the extension of the federal CARES Act have not yet been added to claimants’ accounts and cannot be paid at this time. L&I will update claimants when these weeks become available.
State Extended Benefits (EB) were unaffected by the expiration and extension of the federally funded PUA and PEUC programs. Some claimants who filed EB claims on Jan. 10 did not receive their payments on time due to a programmatic glitch. The issue was identified and remedied and payments to the affected claimants were reissued on January 17, 2020
UI claimants with existing or expired claim balances should be aware of the following general guidelines:
- PUA and PEUC, FPUC will be automatically added and to the claimants’ benefits if they are eligible for the weeks outlined in the new legislation.
- Claimants who will have additional weeks in UI and PUA or PEUC due to state provisions (where applicable) should watch their state agency UI portal or website for updates that will allow additional weeks to be filed.
- Claimants will receive retroactive payments for all weeks they are eligible This applies to all enhanced benefit programs and people will receive backpay to the first day they were eligible.
- Claimants currently receiving benefits through the Extended Benefits program must finish all weeks of EB before receiving additional weeks of PEUC.
I will post additional details as they are released in coming days. So stay tuned for updates.
Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) Program – Now Expired/Paid
Pennsylvania has now paid out the 300 weekly payment under the LWA program, which provided supplemental payments to eligible unemployment benefits claimants who have been unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. The PA L&I department started making payments to eligible claimants starting September 17th (see latest LWA payout tracker by state ). A maximum of 6 weeks or $1800 of payments were made.
There was no new application for LWA. Claimants eligible for LWA will automatically receive LWA funds in addition to their weekly benefit amount as long they are eligible for unemployment benefits and unemployed or partially unemployed as a result of COVID-19.
If you are not on PUA, you will have to certify only ONCE for the LWA program. Complete your LWA Certification as soon as possible as funds are limited and not guaranteed. The LWA certification will be available when you’re due to file your biweekly claim, or it will be available if you are no longer filing. See more on the PA LWA page.
LWA Program Eligibility
- You must be fully or partially unemployed due to COVID-19, and
- You must have a weekly benefit rate + dependent allowance totaling $100 or more, and
- You must receive a payment each week from an existing UI program
Starting Sunday, Sept. 6, individuals should fill out their LWA certification using their UC PIN by selecting “Complete LWA Certification” in the same application used to file biweekly claims.
On Sept. 9, 2020 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified L&I that the last week for LWA benefit program is Sept. 5, 2020 due to the fund’s depletion. This is not an L&I decision. No additional payments will be allowed after Sept. 5, 2020. Hence the maximum payout for the LWA program is 6 weeks, or $1800.
The new LWA payment would be in addition to Regular Unemployment Insurance (UI), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) payments currently available to unemployed workers. LWA Payments will will be retroactive to week ending August 1, 2020.
COVID 19 (CARES) Enhanced Benefits and Payment Issues
Under the CARES act, there are three types of federal unemployment assistance now available:
• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): expands eligibility for individuals who are typically ineligible for
Unemployment benefits, for example independent contractors, and self-employed and “gig” workers. In general, PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Eligible, approved claimants who have no issues with their claim will receive their very first PUA payment – whether it’s the backdated lump sum payment or a regular weekly payment – within one week or less after filing their first certification. Claimants will receive their regular weekly payments within three business days after filing their weekly certification. Questions about your claims should be emailed to [email protected]. You should expect to receive a response within 7 days. This email address is for PUA questions only. Any emails unrelated to PUA will not receive a response.
Note – PUA claimants will notice a federally-required change in the weekly claim application for benefits, which was added to Pennsylvania’s PUA application on Friday, June 12. The U.S. Department of Labor requires individuals to certify for each week of PUA benefits claimed that they are unemployed for at least one of the valid COVID-19 reasons that cause their job loss.
Also going forward, recipients of unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) programs will be transitioned from paying by check to payment by electronic deposits on debit cards. This is to battle fraud and address delays in payments to several recipients. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) is providing debit cards via U.S. Bank ReliaCard, which is a secure, reliable, and prompt method of delivering funds, are being mailed to you at this time. You should expect to receive your card starting from about June 19, 2020, until July 7, 2020.
• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who previously collected state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) but exhausted those benefits. PEUC benefits are available to qualified individuals whose regular UC benefits exhausted July 6, 2019 or later; and are unemployed for weeks within the time frame of March 29 through December 26, 2020. Learn more about PEUC in the Pennsylvania PEUC Claimants Brochure (UCP-26) and PEUC FAQs for additional information.
• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) [NOW EXPIRED]: provides an additional $600 per week, on top of regular benefits. All individuals collecting any type of UC, including PEUC, will receive $600 per week in addition to their weekly benefits as calculated. FPUC payments began the week ending April 4, 2020 and will end July 25, 2020. UC claimants should now be receiving the FPUC payments, which are paid approximately one week after regular UC benefits are paid. Once the PUA Program is making payments, FPUC payments will be made retroactively for any backdated weeks of benefits for weeks ending April 4, 2020 and later. The $600 per week will be separate payments from your bi-weekly benefit.
Backdating your Unemployment Claim’s effective date
if you are looking to have the effective date of your claim earlier than the week in which you opened your claim, you can call the PUA Call Center at 855-284-8545 OR you can send an email request to [email protected].
Email Backdating Request:
- Include “Back Date Request” in the subject line of the email
- Provide exact dates and how COVID affected your employment or self-employment for the additional weeks you wish to claim.
- Examples: I want to backdate to March 22nd because I have not worked since March 20th and where I worked has remained closed due to the Governor’s closure orders.” OR “I want to go back to March 15th because I had to temporarily close my business until June 6th due to the Governor’s closure orders. Please note I don’t need to claim as of June 7 because I have re-opened my business as of June 8.”
- Send only one email request as they will be processed as fast as possible and multiple requests will only delay our ability to process in a timely manner.
Filing a Claimfor Regular UI
At this time, only our Internet Initial Application for UC benefits is available. Click here to continue filing an application for PA UC benefits.
Filing a Claimfor PEUC
File for PEUC
Individuals who are currently receiving regular unemployment benefits do NOT need to apply. Once the balance of your benefits is received, you will automatically be enrolled in the PEUC program for the additional 13 weeks of benefits.
Filing an Initial Claim for PUA
Make sure to review the PUA System Guide for helpful information on what to have ready to prepare for registering and filing your initial claim. You’ll also want to collect proof of earnings documents in advance. Click here to File for PUA
You CAN manage everything through your PUA dashboard – check on your claim status, upload documents, see payment information, etc.
Getting Your Unemployment benefit payment
You can receive UC benefit payments either by debit card or direct deposit.
My employer offered me my job back but at reduced hours. I would make more staying on unemployment. Can I do this?
No. If you are offered work by your employer and refuse to accept it, even if it is at reduced hours, and your acceptance is without good cause, you may no longer be eligible for UC. Determining whether there was good cause for a refusal of work is driven by the facts of each claimant’s circumstances. UC staff would review those specific reasons and make determinations based on the facts of their individual cases.
If you do return to work at reduced hours, and this results in a reduced weekly income compared to your weekly income prior to filing for UC, you may be eligible for partial UC plus the $600 FPUC per week.
See more FAQs and Scenarios specific to PA residents here.
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Update pa pua
For 35 years, Mike Miller and his wife, Marie, earned a living by singing in nursing homes, and entertaining seniors with covers of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. COVID-19 dried up their business, but the Millers didn’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits because they’re self-employed.
They were lucky in being able to rely on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federal program that provides aid to those who don’t typically qualify for unemployment compensation. The federal help was a “godsend,” Mike Miller said, helping the couple pay the mortgage, car loan, and other bills. Nursing homes still haven’t allowed the entertainers to return because of the virus, he said.
» READ MORE: Enhanced federal unemployment benefits for the pandemic end. Here are the assistance programs that can still help.
“It really got us through the past year,” said Miller, 69, of Erie. “And it’s now stopped.”
The Millers are among the millions of Americans who lost their jobless benefits this week when federal programs put in place during the pandemic expired over Labor Day weekend. More than 11 million people were cut off, by one estimate from Oxford Economics. More than 653,000 Pennsylvania workers lost all or some of their benefits, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry. Almost 400,000 New Jersey workers were affected, according to projections in August by the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank.
In addition to PUA, another federal program that gave benefits to those unemployed for more than six months ended Monday. A $300 weekly supplemental benefit also ran out. And an extra $100 a week to people with at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment expired.
All told, the federal government injected roughly $650 billion into jobless benefits since the pandemic, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Although the White House has encouraged states to keep paying the $300 weekly benefit by using money from federal stimulus bills, no states had done so as of Monday. Many states even opted out of the federal program early after some businesses complained that they couldn’t find enough people to hire. Data have shown minimal economic benefits from cutting off aid early in those states.
The ending of these programs comes as the U.S. economy has recovered from the pandemic, but with substantial gaps in the recovery. The Labor Department says there are still 5.7 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. Yet the department also estimated, last month, that there were roughly 10 million job openings.
Pennsylvania workers losing the aid said they’re preparing to cut expenses or dip into their savings to get by. They said they haven’t found jobs in their industries or are unable to work for other reasons.
Dean Webley, a 53-year-old from Belmont Village in Philadelphia, runs a business selling such leather goods as wallets and pocketbooks. She sells items online, but has seen far fewer customers at flea markets or her home since the pandemic. She collected nearly $500 a week in federal unemployment benefits until Monday, but the market for her business still has not recovered, Webley said.
Making matters worse, her son was sent home to study remotely this week after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19, she said. Being available for her son is one reason why it makes no sense, for now, to take a low-wage job outside her industry, she said.
“I might at some point in time, if things get bad, desperate,” she added.
Miller, the singer, said he and his wife collected almost $1,000 a week in combined unemployment benefits, more than the $800 a week they earned playing shows. They will use some of their savings and Social Security benefits to get by, but are unsure how far that will get them.
If coronavirus cases had continued to decline, this week would have been a good time to sunset the federal benefits, Miller said.
“But with this other variant happening and the hospitals around here are getting full, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We’re almost back to where we were last summer with the infections and stuff and people dying, and they cut off the needed benefit. I don’t understand the reasoning behind that.”
This article contains information from the Associated Press.
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