PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Work has halted, paychecks have vanished, and as of the end of last week, nearly one in six Pennsylvania workers had claimed unemployment.
"We went from 40k to a million in a matter of weeks. It's difficult just because of the volume," PA Dept. of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said.
While new claims actually fell 30% for the week ending April 4 to nearly 284000, the antiquated system has been overwhelmed.
"We've had people working from home, we are bringing in retirees, we are bringing in 70 on Monday, we are adding an additional 100 intake interviewers," Oleksiak said.
James Holt is among those having trouble filing.
"Personally putting food on the table and stuff like that is going to be a real issue at some point," he said.
The steamfitter says he has waited seemingly endless hours on the phone to get benefits. He's been trying to get a PIN number required to file.
"I was literally having two phones in each hand constantly dialing and not once have I got through," Holt said.
The problems are not just in the Keystone State.
New Jersey saw a roughly 4% increase for that week with 214,000 new claims. Governor Phil Murphy has preached patience.
"No one will be denied one penny of their unemployment benefits," he said.
Delaware had nearly 19,000, about the same as the week prior.
Here in Pennsylvania, officials say to use the web and don't try to call into the system.
if you have an old PIN that was issued within the last two years, officials say you can use it.
Here is a Q&A with the PA Dept. of Labor and Industry:
We have been getting lots of calls that it is hard to get through - one viewer saying he has called almost a hundred times yesterday without luck. Can you tell me the average wait time? What the quickest/most efficient way to file?
The department is working as fast as possible to process the large number of applications while also protecting the health of our employees through social distancing and teleworking.
Due to the very large volume of claims being filed and questions from claimants, we are urging all claimants to file online at www.uc.pa.gov. The answers to many COVID-19 UC questions are available in an employee/employer FAQ document. We are asking individuals with specific questions about their new or existing claims to email email@example.com.
Last week, average wait times for individuals choosing to apply or ask questions using the telephone were approximately 1 hour. Again, we urge anyone who has questions to review the COVID-19/UC FAQ documents at www.dli.pa.gov. If you can't find answers in the FAQs, you can email our staff at firstname.lastname@example.org - However, wait times have increased as well for email responses. Due to the incredibly large volume of applications for benefits and related questions, our staff responded to almost 47,000 emails last week alone, with an average response time of approximately 9 days.
We are also getting inquiries from viewers that they applied for unemployment weeks ago but still have not received a PIN in the mail therefore they have not been able to file for benefits.
There is not a "one size fits all" answer to this question, because not every person's situation/claim is the same. In addition to the unparalleled numbers of new unemployment claims we are receiving, there are other situations that may also delay when a person receives their Personal Identification Number (PIN) - such as having out of state or missing wages, re-requesting PINs when opening new or existing claims, etc.
We are advising anyone who files a claim for unemployment benefits that it could possibly take at least three to four weeks for them to receive their PIN. We include that information in the "confirmation email" we send to claimants, as well as on L&I's Website, Facebook and Twitter. We will continue to adjust the timeframe for receiving PINs as needed and update claimants via those same methods. It is important to note as well that PINs are not necessarily issued immediately when a claim is filed and, due to security reasons, are sent by U.S. mail, not through email. We also want to reassure anyone who receives a late PIN that we will still accept their biweekly claims for older weeks if that delay occurs.
Can you tell me how many claims have been filed since the Governor closed non-essential business and what the backlog is? When do you expect to be through the backlog? And how many new claims on average do you get daily?
1,134,053 UC claims have been filed since March 15 and 333 WC claims filed since March 15 - 132 are related to health care/ first responders / law enforcement. We continue to bolster our staff to process claims as quickly as possible. Training began this week for new UC recruits. These former UC employees work in other areas of L&I and have already started helping UC respond to email questions coming in to email@example.com. We are in the process of adding 18 additional call center staff. They will be trained to answer emails in the firstname.lastname@example.org resource account. Additional state agencies will also be helping us in the near future. Our first batch of annuitants - retired UC employees - will start on April 13. We will continue bringing back annuitants throughout this crisis. Finally, we have started the hiring process to add at least 100 or more new UC staff.
The following page provides our response statistics: https://www.uc.pa.gov/Pages/Contact-Us-UC-Benefits-Info.aspx.
Answering questions about problems with unemployment benefits