Over the past several weeks, readers have reached out with questions and concerns about their experiences applying for and obtaining unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania.

Many wanted to know when they would receive payments, understand why they were denied or had general questions about changes made to unemployment insurance at the federal level as part of the coronavirus response effort.

In an attempt to help Pennsylvanians better understand the program and the changes would impact them, the York Daily Record compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions.

Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

To be eligible, you must meet one of the following conditions:

  • You’ve been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic, earned enough wages and meet the weekly eligibility requirements.
  • You’re medically quarantined due to the coronavirus, meet the minimum amount of wages and are not receiving sick pay or other leave from your employer.
  • You’re caring for a child whose school or daycare site has closed due to the coronavirus, you’re not receiving sick pay or other leave from your employer, and you meet the meet the minimum amount of wages.
  • You may be eligible if your hours were reduced and you’re still employed.
  • 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

How did the CARES Act change unemployment insurance benefits?

The third federal stimulus, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, created two new ways to receive unemployment insurance: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) programs.

PUA temporarily expands benefits to self-employed, independent contractors and gig economy workers and those with insufficient work histories — people who would not qualify for unemployment benefits under normal circumstances. PUC provides a $600 benefit each week through the end of July for anyone eligible for state benefits. The add-on is paid on top of state benefits.

Typically, unemployed workers can qualify for up to 26 weeks. However, the CARES Act also created the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program to provided for an extra 13 weeks of benefits — for a total of 39 weeks.

What about the $600 payment? When will Pennsylvania pay it?

After weeks of delays, initial disbursements of federal pandemic unemployment compensation funds — the $600 weekly benefit paid — have been released. The benefit is paid on top of state unemployment benefits.

Disbursements will take place in phases. Some unemployed workers began seeing the add-on Friday, April 17.

When will self-employed and gig-workers get benefits?

Self-employed people and gig-workers fall into a new category of people eligible to receive unemployment insurance if your income has been cut or eliminated by the pandemic.

The CARES Act created the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program (PUA) to temporarily extend benefits to them, so if your employer reports your earnings in a 1099 form rather than a W-2, that’s probably your best bet to getting benefits.

So far, over 100,000 people have successfully applied, but the state has not paid out any benefits yet.

Meanwhile, self-employed and gig-workers are still urged to file a regular claim for benefits even if they know they’ll be denied.

My employer furloughed me. Do I qualify? What if I am self-employed?

A variety of workers who normally could not access unemployment insurance will be able to receive benefits thanks to changes from Pa.’s Office of Unemployment Compensation.

The state declined to answer questions about how the changes are being applied, but a review of the changes indicates that furloughed workers, self-employed people and contractors will qualify.

I live in one state, but I work in another. What state do I file for benefits?

File for benefits in the state you worked. If you worked in more than one state, file where your employer filed your wages.

Is the one-week waiting period waived?

Yes. Traditionally, if you file a claim for unemployment, you wouldn’t be paid for the first week you’re out of work. However, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order waiving the waiting period. You will be paid for the first week out of work.

How do I file for unemployment?

The application can be filled out online at: www.uc.pa.gov/unemployment-benefits.

Here’s what you need to apply

Information needed to fill out the application includes:

  • Social Security number.
  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or Pennsylvania state-issued ID (you may still complete your application without these two items).
  • Mailing address, city, state and ZIP code.
  • County where you reside.
  • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of all your employers for the past 18 months
  • The last day you worked immediately before filing your claim.
  • Any severance, vacation, holiday or payment for unused sick pay and the date it was paid to you
  • Name and local number of your union hall, if applicable.
  • Alien Registration Number, if applicable.
  • Military or civilian service documents if applicable.
  • Pension information other than Social Security.
  • Other things that can affect benefits are illness or injury, attending school and not attempting to look for work.

Do I have to fulfill the work search requirement?

No, Gov. Tom Wolf waived the rule requiring beneficiaries to actively search for work during the public health crisis. However, you must still be able and willing to work so click “yes” when you get to this question.

I filed a claim weeks ago. Why haven’t I been paid?

First things first, have you received your Personal Identification Number?

The PIN accesses your account online, and if you haven’t received one, it could mean there’s a problem verifying your identify or that 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://expressforms.pa.gov/apps/pa/DLI-UC/Pin-Request.

Many people said they’ve yet to receive any unemployment insurance payments from the state. Reasons vary. Typically it takes up to three weeks to receive your first payment, if there are no issues with your initial claim.

I was denied. What do I do now?

You can file an appeal for a hearing in front of a referee if you disagree with the eligibility decision. Under state law, you must do so within 15 days from the sent date of the determination eligibility.

You can find instructions on how to file an appeal at www.uc.pa.gov/appeals.

*By Sam Ruland via York Daily Record*