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State jobless claims surge over 1.1 million mark

The pandemic is causing joblessness.

Claims across the state topped the 1.1 million mark Monday as Unemployment and Workers Compensation officials in Harrisburg say they continue to be “blown out of the water” by the amount of claimants who are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 15, 1,134,053 unemployment claims were filed, with 540,000 receiving payment, said Jerry Oleksiak, state Department of Labor and Industry. “It is astounding,” said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits, in a teleconference. “No one could have seen this coming,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons and will be (learning) for a very long time to come.”

Previously, the most claims since 1987 was 61,210 the week of Jan. 9, 2010, Oleksiak said.

A count by county and type of industry is not available until that data arrives from the Social Security Administration, Oleksiak said. Once that is available, the office will share the county and type of job field or industry, he said.

Workers compensation claims also are rising in the pandemic. More than 333 claimants sought compensation related to the virus and about 132 of them are in health care, first responder or law enforcement fields, he said.

The office will have an updated benefits system in place in October. The vendor bringing it in is working with the office to address issues, Oleksiak said.

Phone lines are open at 8 a.m. and close 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday the lines are open noon to 6 p.m. and on Friday 8 a.m. to noon.

“As we get more staff we’re thinking about expanding the hours,” Oleksiak said.

“If people can’t get through we will backdate the application. Not their fault they could not get through.”

The office will soon test “Watson” an artificial intelligence that is able to respond to frequently asked questions, he said.

Call 1-888-313-7214, he said.

After the new claim is open and paperwork is sent.

The process becomes new claims or bi-weekly new claims. It is like receiving a paycheck for pay. For those individuals who don’t have web access to file continuous claims call 1-888-255-4728.

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