Almost no vehicles can be seen in downtown Selinsgrove on a recent Wednesday afternoon during the coronavirus outbreak.

HARRISBURG -- State Department of Labor officials said the “sheer volume” of more than 1 million first-time jobless has led to delays of up to three weeks for some people to get the personal identification numbers that allow them to submit their weekly claims for unemployment benefits.

Secretary of Labor and Industry Jerry Oleksiak said that the state has received 1.3 million jobless claims since Gov. Tom Wolf shut down non-essential businesses in March.

Susan Dickinson, director of unemployment policy for the Department of Labor and Industry said then when people have had questions about their claims, it’s been taking the department 15 days to respond to emails, even though that’s the method the agency has been advising people to use to get questions answered.

Oleksiak said he understands that people awaiting help are getting angered by the delays.

“We want to get benefits to them as quickly as we can,” he said. “We are frustrated too.”

By Monday morning, Labor and Industry staff had determined that they had gotten through the back-log of new filings, Dickinson said. As a result, people filing new claims should now expect to get their PINs in about a week, she said.

Because of the backlog, state officials insist that once the individuals get their PINs to file their claims, the Department of Labor and Industry will provide back payments to cover any weeks that the person is owed, Dickinson said.

In many cases, people submitting claims for unemployment can do so online and they will be approved without needing to do anything more, she said. However, if there are complicating factors then unemployment claims staff will need to get involved and that will dramatically slow down the process.

Oleksiak said that the agency has brought back 70 retirees, hired 100 new staff members, who started Monday, and has begun using an artificial intelligence computer program to try to respond more quickly.

The department said Monday that since March 17, it's paid out $598 million in benefits through a total of 1.58 million benefit payments.

That amounts to an average benefit payment of $377. The state unemployment benefit is generally about 50 percent of what the individual had been getting paid at work, up to the maximum benefit of $572 a week, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

Starting this week, people who qualified for unemployment for the week ending April 4 will begin getting $600 a week extra in unemployment provided by the federal stimulus, Dickinson said.

The extra money provided by the stimulus will arrive separately from the normal state benefit payment but people do not need to file a separate claim to get the stimulus unemployment funding. The $600 a week payments will be added to state unemployment benefits through the end of July, Dickinson said.

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