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Pandemic fallout causing historic jobless claims

State Department of Labor and Industry officials note unemployment claims reached 834,684 since March 15, historic levels of joblessness reflective of the economic fallout from Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown in order to slow COVID-19.

“We’ve gone in a matter of days from a period of low unemployment claims to historic highs,” said Jerry Oleksiak, department secretary.

Callers are getting met with long delays as “skeleton crews” at the department try to manage the record number of those no longer working and online applications were encouraged by Oleksiak.

“It’s frustrating, we know,” he said. “We’re doing all we can and ask people to be patient and — as much as possible — to use the website.”

Unemployment is designed to be half a former worker’s pay with a cap of $572 per week across the state, he said.

There is no mandatory sick leave or family leave, he said, contributing to many first-time claims.

Oleksiak said before that it would be best if employers would provide paid time off benefits so that it reduces the burden of unemployment claims in the state.

Besides jobless claims, the state has seen 131 workers’ compensation filings, he said. Of that total, 81 are either first responders or in the health care field, he said.

“We have a whole lot of people who never filed before,” said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits. “You need to file the week you are first unemployed … think of it like a pay check. You work two weeks and submit a time slip and then get paid,” Dickinson said. “File the claim online at www.uce.pa.gov. Go ahead and apply and we will determine if you are eligible. It’s going to be at least two to four weeks, depending on how many of these claims we can get processed.”

Federal lawmakers are considering adding some relief for self-employed workers during the pandemic – assistance which does not exist now, she said.

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