Were you turned down for unemployment benefits? You’re not alone.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has denied unemployment benefits to about 20% of the 1.6 million new applicants since the coronavirus lockdown began in mid-March.
That means more than 300,000 workers had their claims rejected, usually because they were financially ineligible.
What can be done, a lot of you have asked us.
Advocates say the first thing is to make sure you filled out the application forms completely and accurately. Any errors can derail your application.
Here’s what you need to know.
The PIN is used to access your account online. If you haven’t received one, it probably means there’s a specific problem verifying your identify. It could also mean you entered your address incorrectly. If you don’t get a PIN three weeks after filing an application, you can request a new one at https://www.uc.pa.gov/ or at this direct link.
Call 888-313-7284 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. But you may have to wait. The state says to “be prepared for heavy call volumes, busy signals, and potential delays in getting through.” Some callers say they’ve tried hundreds of times without success. According to the unemployment office, the best times to call are Thursdays and Fridays. Want help in Spanish? Call 877-888-8104.
You can connect to the unemployment office through LiveChat by calling 888-313-7284 to get a secure six-digit LiveChat code. Then you can reach staff online Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You file for unemployment in the state where your employer is domiciled. If you work in New Jersey, you should contact the NJ Department of Labor and Workplace Development. Your best bet is to go online. South Jersey residents can also call 856-507-2340.
The state assesses your eligibility by looking at your highest quarterly wages, total base-year wages, and credit weeks during the base year.
What is the base year? It’s the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately before when you apply for benefits. So, if you applied in March, the base year would start on Oct. 1, 2018, and go through the end of September 2019. If you filed in April, the dates would be for the calendar year 2019.
Some people are rejected because they didn’t earn enough during the base year. But here’s something to try: Some advocates recommend refiling your application starting with weeks after April 5, which changes the dates that are considered for your eligibility.
There’s a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, aimed at gig-workers and self-employed. If your employer reports your earnings in a 1099 form rather than a W-2, the PUA program may be for you. For many people being denied right now because they are ineligible, the best answer is probably to apply for PUA.
Pennsylvania launched a new web portal for the PUA on April 17. Initially it was a mess, overwhelmed by demand. But more than 107,000 people have successfully applied. The state has not yet paid out any benefits, but it expects to start sending payments soon. Apply here.
If you are eligible for PUA, you can receive benefits for up to 39 weeks of unemployment beginning on or after Jan. 27, 2020. Pennsylvania says it will make good on any past payments that are due.
NJ Labor and Workplace Development also offers online instructions for filing PUA claims.
The Financial Determination letter includes instructions on how to appeal. They can also be found online at www.uc.pa.gov/appeals.
An appeal is a formal legal process that involves a hearing before a referee, and can include witness testimony. Worker advocates say it’s not a good idea to appeal a decision simply because you don’t like the determination. You’ll need to establish that the state made a demonstrable error or miscalculation.
If you want to appeal, you need to file within 15 calendar days after the mailing date of the Financial Determination. Some people say they got the Financial Determination after the appeals date deadline had passed. If that happens to you, it’s a good idea to save the postmarked and dated envelope to demonstrate to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review that you have good cause for filing a late appeal.
Some exasperated people are reaching out to lawmakers and their staff members and trying to pull strings. This tactic, which assumes an elected official is more responsive to constituents than a bureaucrat, seems to get limited results. But it may have therapeutic value if you’re not getting anywhere. And it definitely does send a message to elected officials that could mean policy changes in the future that improve the system.
Losing your cool. A Bucks County man on Monday allegedly called Gov. Tom Wolf’s office and threatened his family after police said he was “upset due to not receiving his unemployment money and being unable to make contact with anyone in the unemployment office.”
Brian Rafferty, 61, was charged with terroristic threats and harassment, and was jailed with bail of $20,000.