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Many changes to unemployment claims due to coronavirus pandemic

Hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania have lost their jobs temporarily to COVID-19 shutdowns.

And hundreds of thousands have filed for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is reporting that, between Sunday, March 15, and Tuesday, March 31, 939,025 people filed for benefits. Of those, 154,246 filed in the first three days of this week.

Many of the usual rules for applying for benefits have been waived.

“Claimants are not required to prove they have applied or searched for a new job to maintain their UC benefits,” according to a release from the Office of Unemployment Compensation. Claimants are also not required to register with PACareerLink.pa.gov.”

The ‘waiting week’ — the first week of unemployment, for which people are typically not allowed to apply — has also been waived.

“The federal CARES Act will provide unemployment benefits to the self-employed and gig workers; provide additional weeks of benefits for those exhausting unemployment compensation; and will increase the total weekly amount paid for claimants,” according to the release. “We will update our website with instructions on accessing these benefits as we receive guidance from the federal government. Please check our site regularly for updated instructions and to find FAQs about unemployment compensation “

The office’s website is www.uc.pa.gov.

According to the release, “You may be eligible if: your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19; your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19; you have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19; you have been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts.”

“If approved, your first benefit payment should arrive within four weeks of filing for UC,” according to the release. “Continue filing your bi-weekly claim (every two weeks) — even while waiting for approval. We are experiencing very large call volumes. Please email us at uchelp@pa.gov.”

The office is working to mail PINs to applicants who opened claims between March 15 and 21. Those who receive PINs have until Friday to file for benefits.

“If you do not receive your PIN in time for you to file by April 3, we will make accommodations for filing and will update these instructions, accordingly,” according to the release. “If you opened your claim between March 22 and March 28: Your first day to file will be Sunday, April 5. We will update these instructions, accordingly, as we monitor our progress with mail processing.”

The office is working on new claims.

“We are processing all documents as quickly as possible and appreciate your patience during this evolving situation,” according to the release.

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