HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – We’ve reported on the problems many people are having with getting unemployment benefits after filing back in March, and many still can’t talk to anyone for help. Now, there’s a push to investigate those failures.
State Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) and State Rep. Tim O’Neal (R-Washington) have both asked the House Government Oversight Committee to investigate the unemployment system failures in order to figure out what exactly went wrong, and how to fix the problems. They sent a letter to the House Speaker.
“We have an obligation to get to the bottom of this, and clear it, and say what happened, how’d it happen, how do we fix this, and make sure this never happens again,” said Rep. Ciresi.
Almost 2.1 million unemployment claims have been filed since this pandemic began. That’s not including the 909,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims that have also been filed in that same time. We’ve spoken to many viewers, who still haven’t received their benefits after filing in mid-March.
“How long can you tell someone, ‘Don’t worry, we’re working on it, you’ll get it.’ We’re into 12, 13 weeks. I would be crazy at that point. Any one of us would be,” said Rep. Ciresi.
With low unemployment in the state at the beginning of the year, staff was reduced to 679 people, right before coronavirus hit, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. While hundreds of more workers have been hired since, to help with the backlog, Rep. Ciresi and Rep. O’Neal say, playing catch-up just isn’t working. On top of all that, the unemployment compensation system is 40 years old and was originally supposed to be upgraded by now, but won’t be until October of this year.
“Needed to happen a long time ago, and it may have prevented some of the situation we’re currently in,” said Rep. O’Neal.
We reached out to the state Department of Labor and Industry about this potential investigation, but haven’t heard back. They did tell us, those who have exhausted their regular unemployment and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits can now qualify for 13 additional weeks of pay through the Unemployment Compensation extended benefits program.