HARRISBURG — Roughly 15 percent of the people who filed for unemployment when the state shut down most businesses statewide in March still haven’t gotten approved for unemployment benefits.
The number of people filing claims for unemployment has slowed as the state begins to roepen, though, Labor and Industry data shows.
Last week, almost 44,000 people filed first-time claims for unemployment, the lowest number since the pandemic hit.
On March 20, more than 90,000 people filed for unemployment on a single day and the number of jobless claims topped 400,000 in the last week of March.
Since March 15, Pennsylvania has paid out more than $16 billion in unemployment benefits, Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak told reporters Monday.
Oleksiak said that unemployment office staff have racked up 147,000 hours in overtime trying to help deal with the deluge of calls during the shutdown.
“We’re doing all we can to improve customer service and deal with the backlog,” he said.
Eighty-five percent of the claims from the first week of the pandemic business shutdown have been paid, said Susan Dickinson, director of the state Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy.
“Fifteen percent are under review. They may be denied,” Dickinson said. Because of the likelihood that some of those who filed claims will be deemed ineligible, the fact that examiners are still sifting through the claims, “doesn’t mean we’re going to get to 100” percent, she said.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the $600 a week in extra benefits that jobless workers have been receiving on top of their normal benefit payments, Dickinson said.
The extra $600 is set to expire at the end of July unless the federal government takes action to extend the benefit.
"In five weeks, it’s the last payable week, that’s the $600 on top of other programs," she said.
Dickinson said the Department of Labor and Industry has become aware that some people are being told by banks that their unemployment checks won’t be cashed until the financial institution verifies that the check is valid.
She said that may be happening more often in cases involving the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program set up for independent contractors and self-employed people.
In cases where the benefits are being backdated because the individual was deemed eligible for past weeks, the size of the benefit check may raise red flags at the bank, she said.
The state hasn’t provided any guidance directing the banks to contact the Department of Labor and Industry, she said.
“Depending on individual bank policy, they may be contacting us,” she said.