Confusion continues as 1.3 million Americans file new unemployment claims

An updated figure shows that nearly four months after the pandemic started upending the economy, many people are still out of work. Another 1.3 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims last week.

With so many Americans filing for unemployment for the very first time there is still a lot of confusion.

Most of Karen Acciani's income comes from selling her decorative tassels at craft shows which have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

"Pretty much 80% of my income has been lost because of that," she said.

Nearly half of Pennsylvania's workforce is getting PUAs, which is for gig workers and the self-employed like Acciani. But Acciani said while she's been needing to collect unemployment for months now, she's been having an issue completing the application.

"We're just getting people that we've trained, some of the doubling of our staff are just getting on to the phones this week. So we will continue to look for ways to improve that service," said Jerry Oleksiak, who is the Pennsylvania Department of Labor Secretary.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor said it has responded to about 585,000 emails, 258,000 phone calls, and almost 113,000 live chats. But also admits the lag time is significant to get an email response.

"We provide an average right now on our website, it's 2 to 4 weeks," said Susan Dickinson of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.

And prepare to wait as long as an hour and a half on the phone.

"On Fridays, it's a lot easier to get through. On Mondays, it's slammed," said Dickinson.

"We have paid 90% of the claims that we have received from March 15," said Oleksiak. "And we have been able to get out in that time period, close to $27 billion in benefits with a B."

But if you're one of the 260,000 people still waiting for your benefits the Philadelphia Unemployment Project can help.

"Recently we got a back channel, so can we email for people who can't do it themselves," said John Dodds with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

The nonprofit invites anyone in the tristate area to contact them.

"If you've got problems with your checks, we'll do our best to help you out," said Dodds.

"We understand the frustration of people. We are frustrated as well. We do not want to be sitting on benefits or on claims. We want to get people the money that they need and are entitled to. We've doubled our unemployment compensation staff. We've brought back retirees we've borrowed from other agencies of staff from other agencies, we've reassigned people within our own agency. We've brought in outside vendors that we had to get a waiver from the federal government to do that...
We are doing all we can as quickly as we can to get people the benefits that they need and deserve. And I said from the very beginning of this, that $27 billion, and that more than 90% is a great figure. But it doesn't mean anything if you're on the wrong side of that. So we know that as proud as we are about the work we've done, we've got a lot more work to do and our staff is working very hard to do it," said Oleksiak.

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