CARES Act expanding unemployment benefits in PA

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, but to soften the blow, Congress passed a stimulus bill to help workers and businesses.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act loosens the eligibility requirements for unemployment and benefits Pennsylvanians.

While a person might not have been eligible a week ago, chances are, eligibility would be accepted. To date, 834,684 people have applied in the commonwealth with more expected.

“We have gone from a period of low unemployment claims to historic highs,” said Jerry Oleksiak, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

“Even if you were a new person who had never been employed before, other than let’s say the last month and then were laid off,” said Joshua Schwartz, Partner at Barley Snyder Law Firm. “While you typically would not have been eligible, now you are eligible.”

Those who are self employed and use 1099 forms for pay, people who do not have adequate employment history, and those who have maxed out unemployment benefits can all apply. Officials advise applying immediately.

“Our advice to you isn’t to spend time trying to reach us first,” said Susan Dickinson Director of Unemployment Compensation Benefits and Policy. “You should just go ahead and apply, and we will determine your eligibility after you’ve applied.”

“I’m a little concerned at least at the beginning about some slow paying or people not being able to get into the system right away and maybe some additional delays,” said Schwartz.

The Office of Unemployment Compensation said use the online system first, but the office is able to take applications and updates by phone. Be patient, and deadlines due to long wait periods or communication should not affect benefits. “We’re making sure we take care of anyone who may have missed that window for filing,” said Dickinson.

Officials report Pennsylvanians will be able to apply for benefits in 3-4 week increments for a maximum of 39 weeks under the CARES Act. Beneficiaries usually receive about half of what they typically earn up to $572 per week. The CARES Act is allotting an additional $600 per week until July.

Many are already expecting stimulus checks as a part of the legislation. Attorney Schwartz said the statute does not explicitly say if that money will impact unemployment benefits, but he suspected it will not. He believed unemployment applications will pre-date people getting those checks, and the money would fall under a different category.